E-pistle September 5

Why is Bristol Palin Smiling?
 
So who on the planet does not know the story of Bristol Palin?  And who isn't tired of all the political commentary?  Final question, then, why in the world would I add my two cents worth? Shouldn't I be saying something about the Eagles' season-opener? Why write about Bristol Palin? I guess it's about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread. 
 
I watched the Republican Convention Wednesday night and listened to Sarah Palin's speech.  I thought it was good in the same way that I thought Hillary Clinton's the week before was good.  I'm a public speaker and from a public speaking point of view, both Senator Clinton and Governor Palin did well.  For different reasons I was disappointed in Barak Obama's speech. Senator Obama is our best political speaker in a generation.  My expectations were very high and I got the feeling his handlers crippled his style with too much advice. 
 
So Sarah Palin's speech was fine as far as political rhetoric goes.  It didn't soar.  It stayed earthbound, but was effective.  If you were watching the television coverage, however, you know that the cameras kept cutting back to the seats where the candidates' families were seated.  Cindy McCain barely warranted a glimpse and "first dude" Todd Palin was caught only because he was holding baby Trigg.  The camera's favorite shot, of course, was of 17-years old and pregnant Bristol and her boyfriend Levi.  They're a nice looking young couple. 
 
But I wondered what else they are.  A brave young couple?  A manipulated young couple? A naïve young couple?  And why were they smiling?
 
The progressives say that Bristol Palin's pregnancy is proof that someone ought to pass out condoms after high school hockey games.  In the progressive's world, unplanned pregnancies are a problem. Pre-marital sex is exclusively and only a matter of private judgment, and only a problem if you think it's a problem. The progressives accuse the conservatives of foolishness in advocating abstinence programs and hypocrisy for accepting Bristol's and Levi's pending parenthood with a gentleness never seen in their treatment of inner city youth.
 
The conservatives say that Bristol and Levi have made the right decision in deciding to keep their baby.  But they seem to be giving the Palins a bye where others are given a scolding.  "All (this) really means is that she and her family are human. They are in my prayers and those of millions of Americans," James Dobson said.  The conservatives accuse the progressives of hard-heartedness in making the situation a political issue and for exposing the young couple to the wrath of mean-spirited political operatives. 
 
I didn't know what to think as I watched the convention coverage and the cameras that kept returning the nice looking young couple in the VIP seats.  Strategically speaking, the McCain camp could not have been smarter in flying Bristol and Levi down from Anchorage.  Bright lights always cause cockroaches and gossips to run for cover. I'm glad the two high school seniors made the trip.  I hate cockroaches and gossips.
 
But then what if it is only about smart political strategy?  What if the hockey star and his girl friend are chips in a high stake poker game played by backroom strategists who long ago lost their last human feeling?  I'd hate seeing them in the stands if that's what it's about.
 
I'd like to say that there is nothing to make of all of this, that it's none of our collective business; yet somebody brought the kids to St. Paul so I'd see them on the TV.  I've got to make something of it, but I'm having a hard time doing so. 
 
If the Palin family had come to my study for pastoral counsel, I would have started our session by asking lots of questions and listening as well as I could to the stories the family told.  And then I'd listen some more.  The stories I'd want to hear are not the stories TV reporters and newspaper columnists know or even know to ask about. But the Palins have not been to my study.
 
The sum of it, then, is that I don't know enough to know what I ought to think about all of this and I'm pretty sure I don't want to think what the political hacks of any stripe want me to think about it. 
 
We are told that Todd and Sarah Palin are a brother and sister in Christ.  I haven't heard or read anything about Bristol's or Levi's faith or lack thereof.  But some of what I'd like to help the family understand if they were sitting in my study is that we need to take sin seriously, and grace even more seriously.  I'd open the Bible to Galatians 6:1, "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently."
 
We do no one any good by calling sin something other than what it is. "It's a private matter," "Kids will be kids" or "these things happen in the best families" is not sufficient.  Sin is sin. The trouble with an outside-of-marriage pregnancy is that you can't hide it for long.  Most of my sins are not so pesky.  I hide them quite well. 
 
Sin is falling short of the glory of God, Paul says.  I am sinful and a sinner.  So are Levi and Bristol. One of their particular sins is beginning to show and just got outed by the politicians.  
 
But isn't the good news we preach every week that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven? By grace we have been saved, through faith. But it is not cheap grace.  It is, in Bonhoeffer's words, a costly grace that we dare not  treat lightly or as a whitewash to cover deep rot.  It's a grace that wants to get to the root of things.
 
"If someone is caught in a sin…"  Name it for what it is.
 
"You who live by the Spirit…" We bear the name with fear and trembling.
 
"Restore that person gently…"  That's grace.  Not "never mind" or "whatever," but restoration.  We cannot make right that which has gone fundamentally wrong, but God can.  Restoration is a wonderful means of grace too rarely practiced in the church.  But what joy when it is.  It is the third act in an amazing drama.  Act one is confession.  Act two is repentance.  Act three is restoration. 
 
Why were Bristol and Levi smiling? I don't know.  But maybe theirs were smiles of joy because they are living in the third act of a marvelous story.  I pray that is the case. 
 
That's what I think. Also that the Eagles should beat the Rams.