So, I had an old movie on the Western Channel playing the other day while I was skimming the newspaper, and suddenly I heard Burl Ives singing "The Ninety and Nine." I think it was just an old song they had the rights to -- it didn't seem to have anything to do with the plot -- but it was pleasant to listen to. I went hunting online to see if there was a download of it, because I thought it would be an interesting version to learn on the guitar. I couldn't find Burl's version, but I did find this one, by Andrew Peterson, that includes a goofy slide show of sheep. I was struck by the end of the last verse, after the shepherd has left the ninety and nine who were safe in the fold and gone off to find his wandering problem child: "There arose a glad cry at the gate of heav'n/ 'Rejoice! I have found my sheep!'/ And the angels echoed around the throne,/ 'Rejoice, for the Lord brings back his own.' "
It occurred to me that a lot of people probably take that the wrong way -- not that God is forgiving and cares about the least of us, but that they have a pass to do whatever they want to. Then I saw this news story:
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, still clinging to office after admitting to an extramarital affair, wrote in an opinion piece released Sunday that God will change him so he can emerge from the scandal a more humble and effective leader.
[. . .]
"It's in the spirit of making good from bad that I am committing to you and the larger family of South Carolinians to use this experience to both trust God in his larger work of changing me, and from my end, to work to becoming a better and more effective leader," he wrote.
Some people would make bad Catholics, because they'd see the ritual of confession as carte blanche to behave badly, then "Hail, Mary" their way out of it. Sanford is probably one of those people. Maybe someone who is an expert on Christian theology can tell me if that's the way it really works -- God just takes pity on you and plucks you out of your midlife crisis and makes you a better person. I thought a little more personal effort was required.