Dancing on the Head of a Pin

There is a legend of St Thomas Aquinas asking "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" At this blog we ask all questions dealing with our faith and spirituality. Some are down to earth, rubber meets the road questions, while others are more lofty...like, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Book of Daniel

from my column this Wednesday in the local paper (I wonder if this one will get Letters to the Editor?)

Many people have asked what I thought about NBC’s “The Book of Daniel,” a dark comedy about an Episcopal priest and his family. The plot consists of the priest hooked on pain killers who happens to chat with a physical Jesus in the car and in any other place Jesus happens to pop up, an alcoholic wife, three children who are, respectively, dealing drugs, having sex, and one son is gay, power struggles in the church, trying to build a school in which the money raised for its construction was embezzled by a brother-in-law who was found dead in the first episode and his widow is now having a lesbian love affair with her deceased’s secretary, the priest’s father is, presumably, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church who has a wife suffering from Alzheimer’s and is sleeping with the priest’s diocesan bishop who is, by the way, female, and a partridge in a pear tree! As one might imagine, there is a lot of hoopla over the portrayal of this clerical family and groups such as the American Family Association have pushed to have it pulled from NBC’s schedule and even some affiliates have refused to broadcast it because it, according to the AFA website, “mocks Christianity”. Now I consider myself a person who is sensitive to mocking. There are some things I cannot handle and refuse to watch. Many find Comedy Central’s “South Park” wildly entertaining but episodes of Jesus fighting Santa Claus and the Blessed Virgin Mary menstruating are a little much for my sensibilities, so I don’t watch the show. I also cringe at bad theology in television and movies. Theology, certainly, varies upon your religious tradition and what makes me cringe may cause others to celebrate. But for example, I grew up on “Highway to Heaven,” starring Michael Landon. But I don’t think any Christian tradition teaches that humans, upon death, become angels helping others. I enjoyed the Meg Ryan movie, “City of Angel’s” but I don’t think it’s good theology to portray an angel who preferred a few moments of human experience to an eternity of celestial existence. The point is - it appears that certain topics involving faith set groups of people off more than others. If I had to guess the hot button issue in “The Book of Daniel,” it would be homosexuality and drug abuse. It certainly isn’t an ideal portrayal of a priest, but my favorite portrayal of a priest is also the most far-fetched. Remember Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley in “The Bells of St Mary’s” and “Going my Way?” I still want to be Father O’Malley, wearing a straw boater’s hat, playfully arguing with a nun like Ingrid Bergman, and solving everyone’s problems by sitting at a piano and singing a song. But that’s not how life is. Life is also not like “The Book of Daniel,” but in my experience, the truth is somewhere in between. Life involves struggling with substance abuse, issues concerning sexuality, parenting, money, and power – things that can’t be solved by sitting at a piano and singing a song. And yes, even priests, pastors, preachers, ministers, rabbis, and sheiks struggle with these issues. I don’t think “The Book of Daniel” should be the poster movie for the Episcopal Church or Christianity. But I don’t think “The Bells of St Mary’s,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or “Highway to Heaven” should be either. Personally I find a lot of good things in the new NBC show, but you don’t have to watch it and you shouldn’t if you don’t want to. But watch the show or not, we should not ignore the important issues tastefully or distastefully raised, and we should not ignore them in the Church or wherever you happen to worship.

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