E-pistle October 2

Good Guilt: What Letterman Got Right…and not

If we went to bed before the Late Show began, we woke up to the headlines telling us what we missed.  Time Magazine put it this way:  Letterman Brings Sex and Extortion to Late Night.”  The story went on to report how “the 62-year-old comedian skipped his customary Top Ten list, telling his studio audience he wanted to tell them a ‘little story.’ He then went on to describe a three-week ordeal in which a man had attempted to blackmail him to the tune of $2 million for sleeping with female members of his staff.”
 
As of this posting, there’s still a YouTube upload of the monologue. I think it is worth watching.
 
Letterman was brilliant.  Almost.  Frankly, I have never been much of a David Letterman fan. I don’t care for his brand of comedy.  Just a personal preference. But the comedian was really good last night.  John Edwards should have hired him to write his speeches.  Is extortion and adultery something to laugh about?  It is if you are a comedian.  I have no problem with the way Letterman tells his little story. 
 
I am a bit disturbed by some of the audience reaction: clapping and laughter as Letterman talks about the “creepy stuff” he did; “I had sex with women who work on the show,” he admits, and the audience responds with an enthusiasm no “applaud” sign can generate. But I need to give them a break.  They are tourists who got tickets to see the Late Show.  They expected to laugh and be entertained.  They did not know that they were there to provide secular absolution for a never quite confessed sin. 
 
What Letterman got right last night – during the past three weeks – was his refusal to be blackmailed and his willingness to bear some shame and embarrassment to expose the extortionist’s plot.  Good for him. 
 
And though it was sugar-coated with some good comedic lines, there seems to be acknowledgment, at least to some degree, that what he had done with the women on his show was “terrible,” an “embarrassing terrible thing.”  And, yes, “creepy stuff.”
 
I applaud David Letterman for his candor and his courage.  From creepy stuff to right stuff.
 
Probably not surprisingly, the line in the ten minute monologue that I find most fascinating comes at about the 2:50 point on the YouTube upload.  “I’m motivated by nothing but guilt,” he says. “If you know anything about me – I’m nothing but a towering mass of Lutheran Midwestern guilt…”  The audience laughs and breaks into applause.  The line was well delivered. 
 
Maybe the laughs from an audience of strangers will be enough to absolve David Letterman of the guilt he feels.  I hope not. 
 
In his Commentary on Romans, Martin Luther talks about the guilt that our violation of God’s law brings into our hearts.  He quotes Augustine, “This guilt the Law must make manifest, in order that we may be healed by divine grace.”
 
The guilt that David Letterman feels from his Lutheran upbringing is a gift from God.  Through it the Holy Spirit, his voice muffled by terrible things done and by the applause of an adoring audience, is calling David Letterman to repentance, grace and forgiveness.  Sometimes we get so close to God’s grace, but remain so far away.
 
Another David was a mass of Godly guilt after his friend Nathan told him a story about a rich man who had slaughtered a little lamb loved by a poor man and his family. When he had finished telling the story and David reacted indignantly to the terrible things the man in the story had done, Nathan turned to his friend and said, “You are the man.”  David’s guilt drove him to confession and a plea to God, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” 
 
Not all guilt is good guilt, not all guilt is a gift from God.  But when it is, it is a very good gift.  Guilt leads to confession, confession leads to grace and grace overflows in forgiveness, the joy of salvation and a sustaining and willing spirit.
 
Listen to the voice of your guilt, David Letterman.  It is a gift from God. Listen to the voice of your guilt, Bill Teague.  Listen to the voice of our guilt, Langhorne Presbyterians.  It may be God speaking.
 
We should be careful about laughing at those old Midwest Lutherans.  They knew something. 
 
See you Sunday