Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Russell Brand, Robin Williams, and the Gospel

I was not going to comment about Robin Williams' suicide.  Many have, and I have nothing to add to their commentary.  Much of what has been shown to me on my Facebook feed has been relatively well thought out, but none of it truly made me think deeply.

Leave it to the Drudge Report to link an article in The Guardian written by Russell Brand.  This article truly drew me in and made me wrestle because it links Williams' death with some of the big questions in life.

I didn't know much about Brand until I read his Wikipedia page--assuming Wikipedia is reliable here.  I found out he and Williams shared much in common.  Both are/were very much tortured souls.  Both, I think, struggle/d with some very tough questions regarding life.  From the article:

It seems that Robin Williams could not find a context. Is that what drug use is? An attempt to anaesthetise against a reality that constantly knocks against your nerves, like tinfoil on an old school filling, the pang an urgent message to a dormant, truer you.

Is it melancholy to think that a world that Robin Williams can’t live in must be broken? To tie this sad event to the overarching misery of our times? No academic would co-sign a theory in which the tumult of our fractured and unhappy planet is causing the inherently hilarious to end their lives, though I did read that suicide among the middle-aged increased inexplicably in 1999 and has been rising ever since. Is it a condition of our era?


What platitudes then can we fling along with the listless, insufficient wreaths at the stillness that was once so animated and wired, the silence where the laughter was? That fame and accolades are no defence against mental illness and addiction? That we live in a world that has become so negligent of human values that our brightest lights are extinguishing themselves? That we must be more vigilant, more aware, more grateful, more mindful? That we can’t tarnish this tiny slice of awareness that we share on this sphere amidst the infinite blackness with conflict and hate?

That we must reach inward and outward to the light that is inside all of us? That all around us people are suffering behind masks less interesting than the one Robin Williams wore? Do you have time to tune in to Fox News, to cement your angry views to calcify the certain misery?

What I might do is watch Mrs Doubtfire. Or Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting and I might be nice to people, mindful today how fragile we all are, how delicate we are, even when fizzing with divine madness that seems like it will never expire.
I found an echo of this thinking in his stand up show "God Complex" (warning: raunchy and quite blasphemous) when Brand said the following:

Why are they doing this to us?  Why are they positioning our heroes in these meaningless landscapes?  Why are they creating a cultural malaise in which nothing has nutrition; where our food lacks nutrition; where there's an emptiness in my stomach that can't be filled by drugs or fame or money?  Who is it that benefits from this system?  Who benefits from us having a void within ourselves that can never be filled?  Who is it that claims they can fill this void?

It is quite intriguing that Brand answers such questions in three ways: two in his article and one in his show.  1. Escaping by watching movies which have messages.  To enter stories.  2. To be nice to people mindful of our fragility and delicate nature.  3. Worshiping sexuality.

Unfortunately, none of these things satisfy.  None of them.  Show me one person who has had their hunger filled by entering into story after story after story and/or watching movie after movie after movie.

Show me one person who has become satisfied with being nice to people.

Show me one person who has become satisfied with having as many sexual encounters as possible.

They do not exist.  None of these things brings satisfaction, and they all lead to hopelessness.  There is always another story; another person who needs to receive some niceness; another encounter to be had.  There is always a desire which finds temporary fulfillment, but defies satisfaction.  If you place your self-worth in such things, you will only find disappointment.

But such things are the default setting for humankind.  These are the things we automatically search for.  Brand asks who benefits from this system?  (I'd not call it a system; I'd call it our selfish-nature.)  We all do.  We all seek our own benefit.  We all seek our own will to power as Nietzsche called it.  Our selfish gene dominates as Richard Dawkins would say.  And our selfish gene does not become satisfied.  Our will to power is never quenched.  And if that will to power is threatened; if our selfish gene becomes thwarted as our false idols crumble, what happens?


What can bring satisfaction?  What can lead us away from the desires for our own will to power?  What can pound the selfish gene into submission so that it cannot dominate others or be easily exploited?

Only the Gospel.
Only God's action through Jesus Christ.

I have gone through this train of thought numerous times in this blog and in my more recent sermons.  I never realized just how the Gospel truly is the hope of humanity as I was caught up in my own will to power; my own selfishness.  I know I was on the path to despair and even hit a bit of depression.  The Gospel changed all that.

I know Robin Williams was a Christian, but I don't know if he grasped the power of the Gospel.  In his comedic routines, I'm not sure he did.  I think he saw Christianity as a set of rules and regulations.  I think Russell Brand does too.  In my estimation, this isn't good.  It shows a failure on the part of the Church to articulate what God has already done.  It shows the Church has been more concerned with advice instead of proclamation.

That proclamation brings lasting change and satisfaction.  It brings hope and peace and joy.

These are things much needed by the world.  Williams and Brand show us that unequivocally.


Kathy Suarez said...

There is nothing wrong with rules and regulations. Even though we are not saved by them, we sure as heck can be lost by not following them. Robin Williams' life and death are proof positive of this Truth.

Just because we do not like some of the rules of the Church, this does not mean we have the license to change or disregard them. This does not mean we should preach a "Grace Alone" gospel. We are saved by Grace but we live our lives by free-will co-operation with Grace.

Kevin Haug said...

Of course there is nothing wrong with rules and regulations. We need them because the boundaries keep us safe.

Now, follow them, Kathy. Follow them fully and completely because that is what God demands. Every jot and tittle. Follow them. No exceptions. Give to everyone who begs--even those you deem not worthy. Do not become angry with a brother or sister--which means you cannot condemn the Lutheran church anymore. Give up all of your possessions, give the money to the poor, and spend your time following Jesus in a life of service. Do it. No exceptions. No excuses. No exegetical gymnastics saying there are different levels of following Jesus and possessions. Follow the Law. Now! Your salvation depends upon it!!! You have abandoned the grace given to you by Jesus Christ and have taken up the yoke once bestowed upon the Israelites. It is yours now to carry. Good luck carrying it. I pray that you will accomplish it.

Kathy Suarez said...

You are not even reading what I am saying. "Give to everyone who begs." This requires interpretation. Hermeneutics. This is a general rule about Charity. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us general principles. In his parables, he gives specific situations and then we extrapolate general principles. This is the way Jesus teaches.

ACB70 said...

Another great Blog! I really look forward to these and the fact that you incorporated in a recent event and tied that into your blog made it that much better!
The fact that you point out that people try to find a level of accomplishment or self worth through the avenues is so true. People can find the true happiness they seek through the gospel! Again, great work Kevin!

Kevin Haug said...


What kind of interpretation do you need for "Give to everyone who begs."? It's plain. It's simple. It's straight forward. There is no interpretation to be given save that of the instruction of Jesus Himself.

See, now you are trying to get off of following the commands of Jesus because you don't/won't do it. This is why I am praying for you. You have chosen the path of trying to justify yourself. I hope you will be converted to the Gospel.

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.’ 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ 12But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, ‘Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.’

Kevin Haug said...

Thanks, Chris. Hope all is well with your seeking assisting minister status. Praying for you in this endeavor!!!

Kathy Suarez said...

Kevin -- OMG!!! I just looked at your photo! You have two eyes! Why haven't you plucked them out?

Interpretation, interpretation. You have rejected the Magisterium so now you are on your own. Pope Kevin I. I pray for your conversion to the Gospel.

Kevin Haug said...


In case you missed what Jesus was saying, "If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out." My dear, does one's eye cause a person to sin? Let me reference you to what I will be preaching on this Sunday from Matthew 15, "18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander." It is the heart which causes a person to sin, not the eye. If you are foolish enough to believe your eye causes you to sin, pluck yours out for then it would be better to go through life blind than to miss out on the Kingdom of God. Very different from, "Give to everyone who begs." That requires no interpretation, just action. Since you wish to work out and keep your own salvation, I suggest you do it lest you end up missing out on the Kingdom.

Keep praying for my conversion. It is slowly taking place. Each day, I am being more and more grasped by what God has done and its implications for life. I am thankful my salvation has been procured, and I pray that you will come to understand yours is as well.

Kathy Suarez said...

Kevin, I am begging you to give up heresy and return to the Faith. Give to everyone who begs! (btw -- I give drug-addicted-type beggars my prayers, not my money. They will just use it to buy more drugs, a thriving biz in my town. Don't check your common sense at the door.)

Kevin Haug said...

No heresy here, Kathy. Just the Gospel. Sorry you don't/won't believe it.

Kathy Suarez said...

Just your interpretation of the Gospel. Sorry you believe it.

Kevin Haug said...

Not my interpretation. St. Paul's, St. Peter's, St. Luke's, Luther's, Tim Keller's, Jonathan Edwards', John Calvin's and many others.

As Paul said, "11Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe."

Whether it was them, the long list of those to whom Jesus appeared to including the disciple including those cited above, or Paul himself, this is what they proclaimed: The Gospel. Period. It is not mine. I am passing down what I have received. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Kathy Suarez said...

Then why do you and I and Pope Francis interpret Matthew 16:18 very, very differently? St Thomas More (his last words) said: "I die in and for the Faith of the Holy Catholic Church."

I sincerely hope that you and your "members" as you call them, will read what I have written here. It says it all. This is like turning around a giant ocean liner, but it is turning........

Kevin Haug said...

Then why do you and I and Pope Francis interpret Matthew 16:18 very, very differently?

Because you have to justify yourselves and your positions of power. Plain and simple. I, like Luther and other Protestants have no such need to justify a position of power. Jesus is the head of the Church not the Pope. (Biblically, Peter was entrusted with the gospel to the Jews. Paul to the Gentiles.)

Kathy Suarez said...

My friend, that is absurd. I have zero interest in "power" whatever that means for me. The Pope is the Head of the Church. Always has been (Mt 16); always will be. The Will of God.

Kevin Haug said...

That is one of the most humorous statements you've ever posted. Thank you for the laugh.

Unknown said...

A most intriguing post. Thank you for it. A couple of things do stand out to me though, and perhaps it is simply my ornery nature to raise them at this time, I personally try to avoid any evaluation of another persons relationship with God. For I know neither the person's heart nor the limits of God's grace. Secondly, and please forgive me, I do know that it is an occupational hazard, but it sounded a bit "Preachy" I had a good notion of where it was going from about the third paragraph. Not that that is a bad thing, But my sense is that the intent of your message is to reassure "the choir." Thanks for the post.


Kevin Haug said...

Thanks for the comment, Carl. I will try to answer and hopefully shed some light on my thought processes here:

First, I didn't see myself as questioning Williams' or Brand's relationship with God. As far as I know, both believe/d in some form or fashion, but what I questioned was their understanding of the Gospel. I think there is a big difference. Understanding the Gospel is something I think the church struggles with mightily--the idea that we are saved by grace and grace alone and that we do not have to justify ourselves (either to God or to anyone else) mystifies us. Because it is such a radical idea and contrary to the way the world operates, even the church turns Christianity into a set of rules and regulations governing life--and if you don't adhere to them, then you are toast!! That's not the Gospel, by the way. And if you listen to Brand and Williams in their routines and in their statements about faith, they seem to fall into the category of making Christianity a set of rules and regulations. This shows they don't understand the Gospel--not that they have a poor relationship with God, but they don't grasp the reality of what God has done. It's not surprising. Took me nearly 40 years to begin to understand it, and I've got a mess load of theological training. :-)

Which is why the post might sound a bit preachy. Although, for a person who is seeking to understand why Brand asks the questions he does, the post begins to address those questions from another perspective--a perspective which says, "No hunger will be satisfied by what you do to try and fill it. Only by focusing on what God has done will the hunger begin to find satisfaction." That statement is intentional because it seeks to get away from much of "religion" which says, "Do what Jesus says, and you will find peace." That statement is patently false (for no one can do what Jesus says, no one). It focuses on faith which says, "Trust in what Jesus has done." That's the beginning of the understanding of the Gospel.

Hope that helps explain my thought processes. I welcome further questions. :-)

Unknown said...

Kevin, I am certain that many of your readers and the people in your congregation, and in society Either feel uncomfortable with, or fear death, and as such, will take comfort in your thoughtful reflections on Robin Williams' demise. If I might, I would like to share just a bit of my own thoughts on this topic. My thoughts are informed by the death of my brother who passed away last October after battling Mental illness for 40 years. While my brother did not actively participate in his own demise, he did when asked, make an informed and I believe well reasoned decision to not fear death. He did decline the option of dialysis, which may have prolonged 3 months to a year, and my sister offered to donate a kidney. My brother bravely, and I would suggest wisely decided that in his life he had suffered enough, and that the remedies available to him would not stop the voices in his head or the other issues that had accumulated over the past 40 years. As much as I loved my brother and miss him, I respect his decision. THe pastors at the Lutheran Church he attended both spoke at his memorial service, and commented on my brothers rock solid faith and his love of Jesus.
I raise these points because I don't think that any of us whether professional or amateur theologians are really able to speak with authority or to claim to know the heart or the mind of another person or objectively evaluate either the eternal deposition of their soul or come up with simplistic solutions about the nature or condition of another persons understanding of salvation or the working of God in their life.

I trust that this post will not be interpreted as negative or snarky. This is rather an attempt to share my own Heart felt perspective on this issue.


Kevin Haug said...

Thanks for sharing that, Carl, and I personally do not interpret it as snarky or negative. I find it helpful -- extremely helpful.