From the Well 3/2/2017

AN ASH WEDNESDAY MEDITATION

So, how many of you watched the Academy Awards on Sunday night? How many of you stayed up to the very end? Beverly and I started to turn the TV off after Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced the Best Picture. I wasn't surprised that they announced La La Land but down deep I thought it could have been one of the other nominees.

Suddenly there was a commotion on the stage and I knew something was wrong. After a couple of acceptance speeches had already been made, Jordan Horowitz, a La La Land producer, suddenly paused and blurted out that there had been a mistake. "You guys, I'm sorry, no," he blurted into the microphone, "There's a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won best picture."

PricewaterhouseCoopers after 83 years of protecting and making sure the Academy Award envelops were kept secret and handed out in proper order, had suddenly made a mistake. Warren Beatty was given a duplicate copy of Emma Stone's Best Actress envelope instead of the Best Picture envelope causing confusion among the presenters. It was all downhill from there.

Interestingly, the week before the Academy Awards, the Huffington Post asked this question in a headline: What would happen if a presenter announced the wrong winner at the Oscars? PricewaterhouseCoopers responded to the question by saying that no mistake had ever been made. Overconfidence (and maybe even a little arrogance) meant that there were no procedures in place to deal with a mistake. They also added that it was "unlikely" to ever happen. I can only assume that PricewaterhouseCoopers was not familiar with the phrase, "Never say never."

There was a short and hastily prepared apology from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the academy's president gathered with the accountants, Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty and other crew members in the Green room for a good old fashioned "Come to Jesus" meeting. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall!

I'm fairly certain there will be no forgiveness by the Academy for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Neither will there be any forgiveness at PricewaterhouseCoopers. There will be investigations, accusations, and much wringing of hands (or should I say necks). Someone will have to fall on their sword, heads will roll, and reputations will be lost. Someone or a group of people will have to take the blame. Careers will be ruined and the mistake will be a blemish on one of the most prestigious accounting firms in the world.

C.S. Lewis was once asked why so many people who are atheists are such good people. Lewis responded, "If you don't believe in a God who forgives, you are damned to goodness, aren't you." Pricewaterhouse Coopers, I would suggest, was damned long before their mistake on Sunday night. They were a company of perfection and no errors especially when it came to the Academy Award. They were a company that had no contingencies for error. Their procedures-protocol and practices-were flawless, so they thought. I doubt forgiveness will be a part of the final report.

So many in our world have no sense of sin or failure. So much so, that when bad things happen all we can think about is who to blame. Is Warren Beatty or Faye Dunaway to blame for not realizing something was wrong? Could they have prevented the embarrassing error from being played out in front of the world? How ridiculous! One thing is for sure, there will be lots of blame and not much (if any) forgiveness at PricewaterhouseCoopers. There will be no forgiveness from the Academy.

The great Theologian Karl Barth once declared that "only Christians sin." Why would he say such a thing? Because only Christians know the joy of a God who forgives. PricewaterhouseCoopers may have issued an apology but there will be no forgiveness. Huston Smith, the great scholar of world religions, visited Duke a few years ago and gave a lecture in which he discussed the most notable characteristics of the world's religions: Islam was prayer. Judaism was family and Christianity was forgiveness. It is unique to the faith of Jesus and faith in Jesus to forgive, even ones enemies.

We may think of Ash Wednesday as a day of confession, remorse, and repentance (which it is) but we also need to think of Ash Wednesday as a day of celebration and happiness. Why would I say such a thing? I say it because Ash Wednesday reminds us that Jesus came to save sinners, those who make mistakes. Ash Wednesday reminds us of the joy of knowing a God who loves us and forgives even the worst in us. Think about it in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Matthew