Monthly Archives: August 2019

It’s Official: Donald Trump Doesn’t Lie

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Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

Kayleigh McEnany, President Donald Trump’s campaign national press secretary, told Chris Cuomo of CNN today that the president has never lied to the country. “In fact,” she said, “thousands of Arabs did take to the streets of Jersey City to celebrate when the twin towers fell on September 11, 2001; Barak Obama was not born in the United States; noise from windmills does cause cancer; and the colonial army did have airplanes in the Revolutionary War. These are all true statements when placed in their proper context. The trouble is, you take what the president says out of the context of what he means and put it on the news. That, of course, makes the president look stupid.”  “Under what context could any of those assertions be true?” Cuomo asked. “Exactly!” McEnany replied. “None of us knows the context President Trump had in mind when he said those things. So how dare you accuse him of lying?” Mr. Cuomo reportedly left work immediately following the interview complaining of a severe headache.

Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway reiterated Mr. McEnany’s assertion. She, too, expressed the view that the media “picks and chooses” among Mr. Trump’s statements in its ceaseless efforts to mislead the public with “fake news.” “Nobody loves the truth more than Donald Trump,” she told reporters later today. “The president loves the truth so much that he isn’t content to serve it up as is. He cares enough about the truth to embellish it, to make it attractive enough for people to accept.” So, too, White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, explained at a press conference that “truth isn’t about facts. It’s about what those facts mean. And if you want to get to the meaning of truth, sometimes you have to change the facts.” For the first time in recorded history, reporters remained silent at the close of the press secretary’s remarks, seemingly unable to come up with any follow up questions. Many were seen attempting to replay Ms. Grisham’s remarks on their recording devices. “Did we really just hear that?” one was heard to whisper.

Evangelical leaders, staunch supporters of the president, agree on this point. Said the Rev. Franklin Graham, “We all know that the miraculous election of Donald Trump proves he is God’s agent. What God’s agent says has to be true. So even if something wasn’t true before Donald Trump said it, it becomes truth in his mouth.” His colleague, Jerry Falwell, president of Liberty University, concurred. “There’s too much emphasis on truth these days,” he said. “What we need is more faith. If Donald Trump says it, true Christians should believe it and that should settle it. It isn’t for us to question the words of God’s chosen.”

At the end of the day, President Trump himself weighed in, asserting by way of a tweet, “I’m a very honest guy. Everyone would see that if the dems and the media would just stop printing all the things I say for the fact checkers to pick apart.”

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FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen.  “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.” John Steinbeck

Follow Jesus; Break the Law

See the source imageTWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Prayer of the Day: O God, you resist those who are proud and give grace to those who are humble. Give us the humility of your Son, that we may embody the generosity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” Hebrews 13:2-3.

This month my church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), declared itself a “sanctuary church,” meaning that “walking alongside immigrants and refugees is a matter of faith.” I was pleased to learn of this development-until I read the “talking points” issued by the ELCA explaining what this all means. Talking point number two is particularly telling: “Being a sanctuary denomination does not call for any person, congregation or synod to engage in any illegal actions.”

With all due respect, that’s hog slobber-unless “walking alongside” means accompanying refugees and immigrants only until ICE shows up at their doors to deport them or until its officers show up at the door of our church’s day schools and ask to question our teachers about the immigration status of our kids or until the government starts enforcing strictly laws that forbid aid of any kind to undocumented persons. If that’s the case, perhaps the Churchwide Assembly should have amended the letter to Hebrews so that it reads “remember to show hospitality to strangers as long as you can do it without breaking the law.” It is a bitter irony that these talking points follow fast on the heels of our gospel last Sunday in which Jesus teaches us that you sometimes have to break the law in order to keep it. Luke 13:10-17.

Walking alongside the oppressed is synonymous with following Jesus. As we all should know, Jesus warned his disciples that following him meant taking up the cross-an instrument of torture and death reserved for execution of criminals. Jesus told his disciples, “where I am, there will my servant be also.” John 12:26. Jesus lived and died on the wrong side of the law. We can follow him there or merely stand on the right side of the law and admire him. Here’s a true story that illustrates the difference.

Koinonia Farm was an intentional Christian community established in the State of Georgia back in 1942. It continues as a vital witness to the gospel to this day. Its founder, Clarence Jordan, intended for Koinonia to be a “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God.”  For him, this meant a community of believers sharing life and following the example of the first Christian communities as described in the Acts of the Apostles. In order to bear witness to the church as a family in which there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, Koinonia was constituted from its inception as a place where African Americans lived side by side with their white sisters and brothers. Not surprisingly, Koinonia Farm was a frequent target of Klan hostility and government initiated opposition in the deeply segregated south. In his book, Unleashing the Scripture, Duke University professor of religion and ethics Stanley Haueraus relates a story about Koinonia Farm and its founder, Clarence Jordan.

Shortly after Koinonia was founded, Georgia’s state attorney general made several attempts to outlaw the community, confiscate its property and evict the residents. Clarence Jordan sought the help of his brother Robert Jordan, a prominent lawyer with political aspirations. Clarence asked Robert to take on the defense of Koinonia Farm. According to a passage from a book written by James McClendon, the following exchange took place:

“Clarence, I can’t [represent you]. You know my political aspirations. Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”

We might lose everything too, Bob,” [Clarence replied.]

“It’s different for you.”

“Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the same Sunday, as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same question he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say?”

“I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”

“Could that point by any chance be—the cross?”

“That’s right, [Clarence]. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”

“Then, [Bob], I don’t believe you’re a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer and not a disciple.”

“Well now, [Robert replied] if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”

“The question is” Clarence said, ‘Do you have a church?’”

Koinonia continued on in defiance of the law as a model for genuine discipleship. It is a model my own church would do well to emulate. I am tired of that worn out refrain, “But we are a nation of laws.” I would like to know exactly who this “we” is. Whatever the United States of America might be, the Body of Christ is a community founded on its organic relationship to its Lord. It stands with what the rest of the world considers “the least” regardless which side of the law they happen to be on. Sometimes you have to choose whether you will stand with the United States of America or with Jesus. Shame on a church that has so poorly trained its members that they cannot imagine there being a difference between the two.

I am aware of the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans and his admonition there to obey the authorities because government is ordered by God for the purpose of maintaining peace. I am also aware of the Book of Revelation illustrating how government becomes demonic when it usurps the position of God and purports to direct people to act contrary to the great commandment to love God above all and one’s neighbor as oneself. I am aware of Paul’s call for us to to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” Romans 12:1. That very thing recently happened when neighbors of a man and his son targeted for deportation formed a human chain around these two to help them get back into their home as federal immigration agents tried to take them into custody. Said one of the participants in the chain, “I know they’re gonna come back, and when they come back, we’re coming back.”  Breaking the law is a holy obligation where the law breaks the backs of people it is intended to protect. Breaking the law is obligatory when it breaks up families, breaks the desperate hope of those fleeing for their lives to safety and threatens to break the sacred practice of hospitality to strangers. I hope that my church finds the courage to be a follower of Jesus instead of just an admirer. I hope it finds the courage to present itself as a living sacrifice for its most vulnerable neighbors.

Here is a poem by Reb Irwin Keller expressing the loyalty to God that I wish for my church. 

Oath of Disloyalty

I am a disloyal Jew.

I am not loyal to a political party.
Nor will I be loyal to dictators and mad kings.
I am not loyal to walls or cages.
I am not loyal to taunts or tweets.
I am not loyal to hatred, to Jew-baiting, to the gloating connivings of white supremacy.

I am a disloyal Jew.
I am not loyal to any foreign power.
Nor to abuse of power at home.
I am not loyal to a legacy of conquest, erasure and exploitation
I am not loyal to stories that tell me whom I should hate.

I am a loyal Jew.
I am loyal to the inconveniences of kindness.
I am loyal to the dream of justice.
I am loyal to this suffering Earth
And to all life.
I am not loyal to any founding fathers.
But I am loyal to the children who will come
And to the quality of world we leave them.
I am not loyal to what America has become.
But to what America could be.
I am loyal to Emma Lazarus. To huddled masses.
To freedom and welcome,
Holiness, hope and love.

Source: Jewish Journal, August 24, 2019

Reb Irwin Keller lives in Sonoma County California and is a student member of Ohalah, the Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal. He is Ner Shalom’s Spiritual Leader and a founder of “Of One Soul,” an initiative of the Interfaith Council of Sonoma County, working to defend the rights and dignity of the Muslim community and others who are under threat. He is also founder of the Taproot Gathering, a week-long experience of Jewish text study and embodiment practice for activists, organizers and artists. Reb Irwin is currently continuing his studies through the Aleph Ordination Program. Learn more about Reb Irwin Keller and sample more of his poetry at his website.

Trump Supporters to White Male Progressives: Deep in Your Heart, You Know We’re Right

 

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

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Kierkegaard’s Ghost is committed to generating dialogue across the fault lines of our polarized society. To that end, we are pleased to publish this letter from Reginald Wright, a devout supporter of Donald Trump, to his progressive friend, Louis Leftowitz.

Dear Lou.

You liberal white guys really don’t get us Trump supporters. You look down your Ivy League noses at us. You call us angry, ignorant and racist. But let me tell you a few things about us. We grew up in an America where a man was master of his household and the way he disciplined his family was his own business-not the concern of schools, social workers or the police. We grew up in an America where women respected their men, knew their places as wives and mothers-and liked it. We grew up in an America where a man was expected to take advantage of a girl wherever possible and it was a girl’s responsibility not to give any advantage and, if she did, she had only herself to blame for the consequences. We grew up in an America where the high school football team could dunk a guy’s head in the toilet if he looked and acted like a girl and it was all just good, clean fun. No suspensions or law suits or any of that crap. We grew up in an America where those folks you libs like to call “people of color” stayed in their place along with their own kind-and were a lot happier for it. In the America where we grew up, we knew what it meant to be a man.

But the America we find ourselves in today is a foreign country. It’s like we don’t even speak the language. We see the streets on which we grew up full of foreign language signs. We see people on the sidewalks we can’t understand. We see our religion banished from school, pushed out of the town square and the shopping centers on Christmas and mocked on late night television. But we can’t even tell a joke without somebody getting offended. We flirt with a girl and we are sexual predators. We put a confederate flag sticker on our bumper and we’re racists. We don’t know how to be men in this new order of yours. Angry? You bet we are! Our country has been taken away from us. America is becoming less American every day we are getting pushed out of the land we love. Our backs are against the wall and there is no place for us to retreat.

So what do we see in Donald Trump? It’s like this. When we are at one of his rallies, when we look out over that sea of cheering humanity and see nothing but white skin, when we hear Donald expressing all the things we feel deep down inside but are afraid to say in “polite company,” when Donald Trump speaks to us, we feel like men again. When he speaks, it’s possible for us to believe that the old America, the America we grew up in, the America we love is coming back. And that feeling means more to us than the economy, more than health care and more than politics. So listen very carefully Lou: We don’t care that Donald Trump lies about his business prowess, or that he molests women who might easily have been one of our daughters, that he is a draft dodger, a tax cheat and an adulterous philanderer. It doesn’t matter that he lacks any semblance of policy, conservative or liberal. You can talk facts to us till you’re blue in the face and it won’t matter. We don’t care about facts. We believe in Donald Trump because he stands for something beautiful, something we love and miss. And we will keep on believing in Donald Trump and nothing you say will ever change our minds.

There is something else you should know about us. We aren’t as stupid as you think. Of course, we don’t live in the middle of a Trump rally 24/7. Most of the time, we live in the same world you do. We know what’s really going down. We see more and more dark skin on television, in professional sports, in movies, in congress and in our courts. We see more and more women doing men’s jobs. We see mixed race couples walking the streets without getting a second look. We see those folks you call “gay” kissing in public in ways that would have gotten them beaten to a pulp in our youth. We know in the depths of our hearts that the old America we loved is never coming back. Nevertheless, although we’ve lost our America, we can still stop you from building yours for a good long time. We can make a mess so big, leave a country so divided and so ruined that you libs will have your work cut out trying to build your crappy vision of an effeminate, socialist, multi-cultural paradise. Donald Trump is the wrench we are throwing into your well oiled machine. We can’t win, but we can damn well see to it that you lose.

Finally, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Donald Trump is going to be re-elected in 2020 and all you white, male libs are going to help us put him over the top. You see, Lou, you really aren’t so very different from us. Don’t tell me you weren’t relieved when you found out that your company decided not to hire that young woman they were considering to run your department and hired the old white guy instead-who will probably be your boss until you retire. Don’t tell me you didn’t breathe a sigh of relief when you googled that new boyfriend your daughter has been gushing about and learned that, thank God, he was white. Don’t tell me that you don’t feel an overwhelming sense of relief every weekday after you drive across town from work and cross that invisible line into your suburban neighborhood where everyone looks like you. You feel just as jittery as we do when you find yourself in a neighborhood where everybody is speaking a language you can’t understand. You know very well how tempted you are to cross over to the other side of the street when you see a group of black men coming toward you talking their jive. Face it, you are more like us than you want to admit.

And one more thing. You can’t deny that Trump has given you a booming economy. However much you may hate Donald Trump, you love what the stock market is doing.  Change, any change could do a number on that nest egg of yours, the savings you are counting on to give you and the little woman a first class retirement. This thing you libs call “white, male privilege,” you benefit from it even more than we do. You have more at stake in preserving it than us-even if it is only to the end of your lifetime. So here’s how it’s going to go down. You will go on talking the talk of “equality,” “women’s rights,” “it’s OK to be gay.” You will continue holding forth on your enlightened views in your liberal church and at cocktail parties among your liberal co-workers and on the golf course with your liberal friends. But when the second Tuesday in November of 2020 rolls around, when you and all your liberal buddies are alone in that voting booth where no one else can see or judge you, you are going to pull the lever for Donald Trump. You will do it to protect your white neighborhood. You will do it to protect the security and seniority you enjoy as a man in a man’s workplace. You will do it to protect your pocketbook. You will vote with us for Donald Trump because, deep in your heart, you know we’re right.

Your good friend,

Reggie

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FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen.  “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.” John Steinbeck

Of Crime and Punishment

See the source imageELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Prayer of the Day: O God, mighty and immortal, you know that as fragile creatures surrounded by great dangers, we cannot by ourselves stand upright. Give us strength of mind and body, so that even when we suffer because of human sin, we may rise victorious through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“…to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Hebrews 12:24.

Lawrence Russell Brewer was convicted of drug possession and burglary in the late 1980s. He was paroled in 1991, but returned to prison three years later after violating his parole conditions. During this second incarceration, he joined a white supremacist prison gang and became indoctrinated with the ideology of white supremacy.  On June 7, 1998, following his release from prison, Brewer, along with Shawn Berry and John King, offered a ride to James Byrd, Jr. an African American man. Instead of taking Byrd home, the three men took Byrd to a remote county road out of town, beat him severely, spray-painted his face, urinated and defecated on him and chained him by his ankles to their pickup truck before dragging him for about three miles. Byrd died as a result of his injuries. Brewer, along with his two accomplices, was arrested, tried and sentenced to death for Byrd’s murder.

There are many disturbing aspects of this case, but the question that strikes me is this: what nation in its right mind would create and finance an institution that takes young men who have committed petty crimes and turns them into hardened, racist murderers? Lawrence Brewer went into prison a non-violent offender. There is no indication that he posed a threat to himself or others. It appears from the record that he had an addiction problem and stole to support it. Whether the addiction problem was ever addressed during his incarceration, I don’t know. What we do know is that he came out of prison filled with racial hate and bent on violence. If the point of incarceration is rehabilitation, then the system failed miserably. But I am not convinced that the criminal justice system is about rehabilitation. In the American context, criminal justice has more to do with punishing criminals than restoring them to responsible citizenship or doing justice for their victims.

Our tendency is to equate justice with punishment. Wrongdoers should “get what they deserve;” hence, our attachment to the death penalty or its more cruel and unusual refinement, life in prison without parole. So, too, our insistence on “hard time” in prison for offenders rather than alternatives to incarceration. We have an aversion to seeing people “get off too easy” for their offenses. Criminals must “pay their debt to society,” though I am hard put to understand how expending tax payer dollars to feed, clothe and shelter people in an institution that dehumanizes them and returns them to the streets more dangerous than before can satisfy any kind of debt. From all appearances, the prison system is making our streets more dangerous with every penny we spend on it. But none of that seems to matter. The objective appears to be that of inflicting upon convicted criminals the misery they have brought to their victims. Whether that does the victims or the rest of society any good is beside the point.

The author of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews makes reference to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain in the fourth chapter of Genesis. Genesis 4:1-16. God confronts Cain by asking him, “Where is your brother?” Cain responds with the infamous rejoinder, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Then God tells Cain that Abel’s blood is crying out to God from the ground. The author of Hebrews assumes that Abel’s blood is crying out for vengeance, as does one of our fine Lenten hymns.[1] Whether or not that was so, the point to be made here is that the blood of Jesus makes no such cry for vengeance. Retaliation is not God’s way. It is important to note that Cain received neither the death penalty nor imprisonment. He was exiled from his community, but sent away with God’s mark of protection so that nobody would try to take revenge upon him. What God told Cain before his murderous act remained true as he was sent into exile: “If you do well, [you will] be accepted.” Genesis 4:7. Cain is being given another opportunity to “do well.”

There can be little doubt that our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform. Laws passed in response to hysteria over drug trafficking and sex crimes deliver prison sentences and postconviction penalties out of all proportion to the offenses committed. It is well known that this oppressive hammer falls most heavily on Black Americans whose incarceration rates in comparison with white Americans is obscenely out of balance. A conviction on one’s record closes the door to nearly every professional avenue and has the potential to bar employment in the most menial of jobs. It places a scarlet letter of shame on the back of people who are already coming away from an experience that has likely made them angrier, more resentful and thus more dangerous.

None of this should surprise us. After the murder of Cain and God’s gracious response, we read in the following chapters of Genesis about how the cycle of vengeance grew to the point where “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” Genesis 6:11. Revenge is not justice. Retaliation only sucks us ever further into the vortex of destructive violence. Whatever cathartic satisfaction we might get from learning that the one who harmed us is going to prison for a long time, it does nothing heal the wrong. Neither does it deter further violence. Indeed, as Lawrence Brewer’s case demonstrates, incarcerating criminals only makes them more dangerous.

I am not suggesting that there shouldn’t be consequences for criminal behavior. Furthermore, I understand that there are some people who, because of the threat they pose to themselves and others, must be incarcerated in some way. But I believe that punitive incarceration as the default response to criminal conduct is wrong headed and counter-productive. As people of faith in Jesus, we ought to know that punishment is not the solution to crime. What we need is common sense legislation that treats addiction as a public health issue rather than a law enforcement crisis. What we need are alternatives to incarceration that provide opportunities for offenders to make restitution to those they have harmed, receive the medical and psychiatric treatment they need and be given opportunities for education, training and integration into productive work. We need to stop stigmatizing persons who have been convicted of crimes. It is one thing to hold a person responsible for a wrongful act. It is quite another to make that act the defining factor for the rest of a person’s life. None of us would want our entire lives judged by the meanest, most cruel and destructive thing we have ever done. Why should the same charity we grant to ourselves on that score be denied to those whose wrongs happen to be against the law?

We are our best selves when we are conscious that we live by the grace of a God who “is merciful and just; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Living in the mercy of God quenches our thirst for retribution with profound gratitude overflowing in generosity toward our neighbors-even the ones who wrong us. Here is a poem by Denise Levertov giving expression to that infinite mercy.

To Live in the Mercy of God

To lie back under the tallest
oldest trees. How far the stems
rise, rise
before ribs of shelter
open!

To live in the mercy of God. The complete
sentence too adequate, has no give.
Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.

And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,
as salt water
would hold you,
once you dared.

To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
to clenched fists of rock.
Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
many-stranded.
To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
Arcs
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?
Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
flung on resistance.

Source: Sands from the Well (c. 1996 by Denise Levertov; pub. by New Directions Publishing Corporation) Denise Levertov (1923–1997) never received a formal education. Nevertheless, she created a highly regarded body of poetry that earned her recognition as one of America’s most respected poets. Her father, Paul Philip Levertov, was a Russian Jew who converted to Christianity and subsequently moved to England where he became an Anglican minister.  Levertov grew up in a household surrounded by books and people talking about them in many languages. During World War II, Levertov pursued nurse’s training and spent three years as a civilian nurse at several hospitals in London. Levertov came to the United States in 1948, after marrying American writer Mitchell Goodman. During the 1960s Levertov became a staunch critic of the Vietnam war, a topic addressed in many of her poems of that era. Levertov died of lymphoma at the age of seventy-four. You can read more about Denise Levertov and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

[1]
Abel’s blood for vengeance
Pleaded to the skies;
But the blood of Jesus
For our pardon cries.

“Glory be to Jesus,” Lutheran Book of Worship, Hymn # 95. Unfortunately, this is another fine hymn that didn’t make the cut for the subsequent Evangelical Lutheran Worship. 

 

White House in Damage Control After Trump Hitler Gaffe

 

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

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To the shock and horror of many across partisan lines, President Donald Trump told a crowd today that Germany’s late war time chancellor, Adolph Hitler “was not really such a bad guy.” The startling comment came during his formal endorsement of Curt Schilling, who is running for congress. Schilling is an outspoken conservative and Breitbart podcast host known for espousing conspiracy theories, white nationalist rhetoric and collecting Nazi memorabilia. In defense of Mr. Schilling in the face of widespread criticism for his seeming Nazi sympathies, Mr. Trump reiterated his point that many Nazis are “very fine people.” He also pointed out that Hitler’s views on race mirror his own preferences for encouraging more immigration from northern European countries like Norway and stemming the flow of immigrants form South America and African nations. When pressed on the dictator’s genocidal policies, Mr. Trump was quick to defend the chancellor. “Look,” he said. “I have every reason to believe Hitler was not really such a bad guy. Did he even know about concentration camps? Germany is a big country. You can’t expect him to know what’s going on in every corner of it.” At that point, the sound system inexplicably shut down and Mr. Trump was whisked away by secret service agents citing unspecific “security concerns.” In a tweet later in the day, Mr. Trump stated that the Holocaust was likely engineered by Hillary Clinton. “Nasty woman,” he said. “Wouldn’t put a thing like that past her.”

Mr. Tump’s remarks drew severe and immediate criticism from Democrats and many organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, Amnesty International, the VFW and numerous individuals. Several foreign leaders, including Britain, France, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands also condemned Trump’s statements. Even Israeli prime minister  Benjamin Netanyahu, ordinarily a staunch supporter of Mr. Trump, said that the president’s remarks were “troubling and disappointing.” By contrast, many voices on the far right of the political spectrum applauded the president. “At last,” said National Policy Institute president, Richard Spencer, “our president has found his voice.” David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan also registered approval tweeting, “I always knew he had it in him.”

Republican Congressional leaders are all unavailable for comment. The congressional switchboard on the Republican side of the House of Representatives appears to have been shut down. Reporters have been unable to contact any Senate Republicans. The whereabouts of Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell is currently unknown, though it was reported that a man fitting his description, except for a pair of thick glasses and a mustache, was seen lurking in the Senate coat room. Maine Senator Susan Collins is reportedly holed up in a stall of the woman’s room at her Augusta office and is not responding to inquiries. But White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham addressed reporters this afternoon and emphatically denied that Mr. Trump intended to praise Adolph Hitler. “This is just another example of the liberal press taking one statement of the president and twisting it out of context,” Ms. Grisham said. She then told reporters that a teleprompter malfunction was responsible for the misunderstanding and that the intended words were “Adolf Hitler was such a bad guy.” Ms. Grisham went on to explain that “When the teleprompter breaks down, the president tends to say what he thinks instead of what he means.”

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, dodged inquiries into the president’s statements about the Nazi dictator, but defended his policy positions on immigration. “We need to protect the cultural character of our country,” he told reporters. “That inscription on the Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants into the country, it’s not about a lot of diseased, dirty, lazy people who speak gibberish-like the kind we are getting over the border today. It’s about people coming from Europe who speak English and have good jobs.” He went on to explain that plans are being made to eradicate the words “poor huddled masses” from the base of the Statue and replace them with the words, “people who can stand on their own two feet.” Mr. Cuccinelli explained that this new rendering expresses more clearly what poet Emma Lazarus, author of the poetic statement, actually meant. “We don’t want to create the impression that the United States is the dumping ground for the world’s refuse,” he said.

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FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen.  “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.” John Steinbeck

Interpreting the Times for A Dying Empire and a Dying Church

See the source imageTENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29—12:2
Luke 12:49-56

Prayer of the Day: O God, judge eternal, you love justice and hate oppression, and you call us to share your zeal for truth. Give us courage to take our stand with all victims of bloodshed and greed, and, following your servants and prophets, to look to the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“…why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Luke 12:56.

A large part of prophetic ministry involves “interpret[ing] the present time.” The Hebrew prophets were not hermetic mystics speaking only out of esoteric visions. They were politicly savvy and incisive critics of their time. Better than the Israelite kings and their courts who played the high stakes game of geopolitics, Isaiah and Jeremiah understood that the world around them was changing. They could see that the future of Canaan belonged not to Israel and its rival kingdoms of Moab, Ammon and Philistia, but to the great empires of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. The prophets could see that the way of faithfulness for Israel in the days to come would be radically different. There could be no return to the past, no “making Israel great again” as some of Jeremiah’s prophetic contemporaries insisted. The end of the world as Israel knew it was at hand. All hope now must be placed on whatever new world God might raise from the ashes. Salvation there surely would be-but only on the far side of judgment.

So, too, Jesus ministered at the end of an era, that era being one in which his fellow Jews occupied the land promised to Abraham and Sarah’s descendants. Theirs was a life of faith revolving around the temple in the holy city of Jerusalem, albeit under the shadow of Roman occupation. Jesus recognized (as did many of his contemporaries) that Judea was on a collision course with the Roman empire, a conflict that would bring an end to Israel as Israel knew it. But Jesus challenged is disciples and the rest of his people to recognize that the reign of God was bigger than both the temple and the empire that would finally destroy it. Turns out, he was right. From the ashes of Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 CE there arose the rich and revitalized Judaism we know today and the church bringing the covenant promises of Israel to the nations.

So how are we to interpret the present times? I am no prophet by the measure of Isaiah or Jeremiah and certainly not Jesus. But there some trends that present both dangers and opportunities I believe we should be thinking about. I present my thoughts along these lines as questions because they are as tentative as my limited perception.

Is this the beginning of the end for the American empire? One might challenge the notion that the United States is an empire. But let’s not argue semantics. What I mean by “empire” is a nation state that, in addition to its sovereign territory, controls numerous “spheres of influence” throughout the globe. To put it as kindly as possible, one might say that the world has for seven decades depended on American economic and military power to ensure its well-being. A less charitable (and perhaps more accurate) assessment would be that American economic and military power has been instrumental in supporting the supremacy of North American/Western European domination of Africa, Asia and South America. Either way, America’s position is eroding and much of the rhetoric on both ends of the political spectrum is calling for a reversal of that trend.

This situation presents both temptation and opportunity. The temptation will be to fall in with one version or another of the “make America great again” meme. As I have often observed, the progressive vision of the American church’s mission differs from the evangelical Trumpist vision in methods and priorities only. Whether through banning abortion and returning prayer to the classroom or making healthcare available to all and implementing a livable wage, the objective is the same: saving America, restoring it to some golden age in its past or moving it to some lofty ideal of what it was always intended to be. Here the rhetoric of American mythology mixes freely with biblical imagery in ways that have often proved misleading and even toxic. Make no mistake, I am all for doing the right thing politically. But let’s do it because it is the right thing to do and not only because it has sufficient popular support to succeed in pushing us toward a kinder, gentler America.

To illustrate the above point, let’s stop promoting phony half baked responses to America’s gun fetish and avoiding criticism of the Second Amendment as though it were some god-given sacred cow. Let’s stop pretending that “self defense” is a natural right. According to the “just war doctrine” as espoused by Augustine, Aquinas and the Lutheran Confessions governing my own ELCA, the use of lethal force in the furtherance of justice belongs solely to the government. Thus, there is no reason for a Christian to possess a lethal weapon unless s/he is a law enforcement officer or soldier on active duty.  We ought to be witnessing to God’s just and peaceful reign by banning weapons from our sanctuaries (sad to say that this is even a necessity) and calling upon our members to empty their homes of the same. Let the politicians worry about the fallout.

This is an opportunity to proclaim loud and clear that one ought not put one’s trust in empires, parties, candidates or elections. Empires crumble, parties align themselves with narrow self-interests, candidates are corruptible and, as Professor Stanley Hauerwas pointed out this summer at the annual gathering of the Ekklesia Project, there is only one example of democratic rule in the Bible. In that one instance, the people chose Barabbas over Jesus. So let’s purge from our rhetoric all idiotic phrases like “faith in democracy,” “faith in our constitution,” “faith in the rule of law.” There is but one who is worthy of our faith. Idolatrous blather about faith in institutions has no place in our preaching and teaching.

This is a good time to consider how one can recite with integrity both the Apostle’s Creed and the Pledge of Allegiance. This is an excellent time ask ourselves why it is appropriate to have the flag of the United States of America (or any nation state for that matter) displayed in a sanctuary where we confess one holy catholic and apostolic church throughout the world in which there is “neither Jew nor Greek…slave nor free…neither male nor female.” Galatians 3:28. This is a good time for us to do some soul searching, asking ourselves whether we are more American than Christian and why so many of us are not even capable of entertaining such a question.

Is this the end of the Church? The end of the church might be at hand-in the sense that the Babylonian conquest was the end of Israel and the Roman sack of Jerusalem the end of Judaism. These events resulted in the unthinkable, the destruction of everything Israel thought essential to its existence as God’s chosen people. Though Israel did indeed “rise from the ashes,” its existence, self understanding and covenant life were, though in continuity with, radically different from the past.

We have good reason to believe that, at the very least, the church in America will be much smaller, poorer and less influential in the decades to come. Our decline is due to numerous factors, but the bottom line is this: American society no longer needs us. The time is long past when the Church was a big player in municipal, state and national politics. In my childhood, everyone went to church or lied and said they did. Being a believer in the Christian God was as much a part of being an American as saying the pledge of allegiance. Today, next to nobody cares whether you go to church or believe in God. You can be a good American citizen without having a trace of religion in your psychic DNA. The church isn’t necessary to American society anymore and so people no longer feel it necessary to attend, much less join a church.

The temptation will be to try and save the dying church of yesterday just as we are tempted to try making America great again. Once more, the means and priorities differ on opposite ends of the theological spectrum, but not the objective. We mainliners will be tempted to continue trying to convince progressive politicians that we are “relevant” and have something important to contribute while they, for their part, will exploit our angst to get  whatever votes they think we can still deliver. We will feel compelled to continue generating new programs and projects with whatever resources we have left more, I fear, to convince ourselves that we have a reason to exist than out of a commitment to the reign of God. A mirror image of this same effort can be expected on the fundamentalist end. In both cases, the end result is the same. In desperately seeking to save our institutional lives, we stand to lose our souls.

The opportunity here is to re-examine our mission and reflect on what it means to be a diminished church in a dying empire. That might sound dreary, but it isn’t. Really. Think of it this way: You just got fired from a job you didn’t much like and were not very good at anyway. Once you get over the anger and humiliation, you realize that this is the best thing that could have happened to you. Now you are free to do what you want, what you are good at and what brings you joy and satisfaction. I look at the situation of the church today in much the same way. It has always been assumed that the church must provide the moral framework justifying America. We have been co-opted into deifying white middle class morality, rationalizing America’s violent ways, sanctifying its wars and elevating its sacred symbols in our sanctuaries. In exchange for “Americanizing” our faith, we got “god” on our money and in the Pledge of Allegiance along with lip service in the form of our leaders occasionally referring to the United States as a “Christian nation.” Now, at long last, we are out of that damned, stinking contract. Praise be to God for that pink slip! We are free at last from the onerous burden of propping up a dying empire and free to be God’s people in Christ Jesus.

So, what does it mean to be church in America but not of it? First and foremost, I think it means being the sort of community that forms in its members the mind of Christ. Let me put some shoe leather on that. About twenty years ago now I was listening to the interview of an old Polish Catholic woman on public radio. Unlike so many others in her generation who turned away Jewish refugees during World War II, she welcomed these families into her home and, when the Nazi’s invaded, she hid them in her basement. The interviewer asked her, “Why would you put yourself and your family in danger of death or imprisonment in a concentration camp for people who are complete strangers to you?” There was a long, pregnant pause-almost as though she didn’t understand the question. Then the woman answered with a question of her own: “Well, what else would one do?”

We need communities capable of forming people like that woman, people who cannot even imagine doing other than what Jesus would have us do. That is why, though I applaud my ELCA’s decision to declare itself a sanctuary church for refugees, I wonder whether we are ready to live into that commitment. Jesus solemnly warns us in this Sunday’s gospel that he came not to bring peace to the world, but division. Are we prepared for hard conversations that might divide congregations, split families and alienate friends?  Are we ready for the bad press we are already starting to see from Fox News? Are we ready for an exodus from our church by angry Trump supporters on a magnitude bigger than what we saw in 2009 when we welcomed same sex couples? Are our pastors ready to preach the word of God’s welcome to strangers in front of hostile congregations? Are we prepared to face not mere criticism, but death threats? Legal action? Tear gas and bullets?

This might sound hyperbolic. I truly hope it is. But we have seen in the last few weeks the strength and intensity of white nationalism and the horrific violence of which it is capable. We have seen all too clearly that the present administration is whipping up racist hysteria for its own purposes and seems disinclined to moderate its rhetoric. We have seen the emergence of racist populism throughout Europe and the increasing instability of international institutions and treaties that once held nationalistic impulses in check. I would like to think that these trends are just blips on the historical pulse monitor and not signs of impending systemic crisis. But our hope can never be based on mere optimism. It must rest solely upon our confidence in the crucified one who God raised from death and with him a new creation. Such faith is learned in communities where it is lived out day by day in ways big and small. I pray that our churches are making disciples like that old Polish saint in whom the mind of Christ was so thoroughly formed that she could not imagine doing less than putting her very life between ruthless oppression and its victim. That, after all, is what it means to be a “sanctuary church.”

Here is a poem by William Butler Yates speaking a timeless yet timely message on interpreting the times.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Source: This poem is in the public domain. William Butler Yeats (1865 -1939) was an Irish poet. He was born in Sandymount, Ireland and spent childhood holidays in County Sligo. Yeats studied poetry from an early age when he became fascinated by Irish legends, spiritualism and the occult. He later abandoned his pursuit of spiritualism as he became increasingly drawn to the Irish struggle for independence. Yeats served two terms as a senator of the Irish Free State. He was a leader in the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th and early 20th century along with Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn and others. In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. You can read more about William Butler Yeats and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Clinging to an Impossible Promise

Image result for Abraham and starsNINTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm 33:12-22
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, you sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your church. Open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may be ready to receive you wherever you appear, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32.

But I am afraid. Within less than twenty-four hours I have watched news coverage for two mass shootings, one in El Paso and the other in Dayton, with a total body count of 39 dead and 66 wounded. And then there was the shooting in Gilroy, California last week killing three and wounding twelve. Those are the numbers I have as of this writing. Behind the numbers are children excited about starting a new school year with fresh notebooks, new crayons and the latest Disney back packs. Some are moms and dads leaving their spouses to wonder how they are going to break this horrible news to their children and how they will go about raising them on their own. Some are parents experiencing the unspeakable sorrow of having to bury their children. Yes, I am afraid. I am afraid because this could have as easily taken place in a mall, a park or a place of worship where my children and grandchildren spend their time.

I am afraid because I know these killings are not random. They are motivated by a deep seated racist anger, the flames of which have been fanned into wildfires by a fascist demagogue and a political party in thrall to him and his base of white rage. I am afraid because my church has failed to name the idolatry of American nationalism, condemn in specific terms a president whose racist words and actions precipitate violence daily and denounce the deviant evangelical religion that legitimates his regime. I am afraid because I fear that, just as my church has had to apologize for its complicity in American slavery and its silence during the Holocaust, decades from now it will be apologizing for its inaction as thousands of refugees were turned away from sanctuary and sent back to the mortal dangers threatening them; as numerous persons of color were forced to live in fear of their own government; and as sexual minorities were subjected to humiliation, discrimination and violence.

I am afraid today and Jesus’ call for me to be unafraid seems like a big ask. But as I see it, I don’t really have any other choice. If I don’t believe that Jesus will deliver on his promise of God’s just and peaceful reign, I have to accept that the world I have helped to make for my grandchildren is the only one they can expect. If I reject hope, I am left only with fear. The best I can expect is survival and, if that is all the future holds for us, what is the point? So I am clinging to Jesus’ promise to give us God’s reign, trying to let go of all the stuff in my life that I know can’t bring me any true security and doing my best to look forward with hopeful anticipation rather than dread. But to be honest, it isn’t working very well for me today.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1. These words preface a roll call of biblical heroes who placed their confidence in an as yet unfulfilled and seemingly impossible promise, Abraham and Sarah being the primary examples. For these folks, God’s promised future was more real than the facts on the ground. For many of the saints, those facts were pretty ugly-as they are for us today. The alternative was the same: let the dark and violent past determine the future or be open to God’s future and its power to transform the present. Saints are promise driven and future oriented. We cling to the promise of God’s just and gentle reign, though sometimes its only with our fingernails. This hope of ours sometimes has but “half a heart,” but it perseveres nonetheless. And it is enough-just enough-for days like this.

Here is a poem about hope by Maya Angelou that I think captures the state of faith many of us are experiencing today.

A Plagued Journey

There is no warning rattle at the door
nor heavy feet to stomp the foyer boards.
Safe in the dark prison, I know that
light slides over
the fingered work of a toothless
woman in Pakistan.
Happy prints of
an invisible time are illumined.
My mouth agape
rejects the solid air and
lungs hold. The invader takes
direction and
seeps through the plaster walls.
It is at my chamber, entering
the keyhole, pushing
through the padding of the door.
I cannot scream. A bone
of fear clogs my throat.
It is upon me. It is
sunrise, with Hope
its arrogant rider.
My mind, formerly quiescent
in its snug encasement, is strained
to look upon their rapturous visages,
to let them enter even into me.
I am forced
outside myself to
mount the light and ride joined with Hope.
Through all the bright hours
I cling to expectation, until
darkness comes to reclaim me
as its own. Hope fades, day is gone
into its irredeemable place
and I am thrown back into the familiar
bonds of disconsolation.
Gloom crawls around
lapping lasciviously
between my toes, at my ankles,
and it sucks the strands of my
hair. It forgives my heady
fling with Hope. I am
joined again into its
greedy arms.

 

Source:  The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou ( c. 1995 by Virago Press). Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was a multi-talented American poet, author, singer, dancer and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She is perhaps best known for her well known autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. The book earned her the National Book Award. Angelou was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton in 2000 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2010. You can read more about Maya Angelou and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

President Trump Nominates Vladimir Putin for Director of National Intelligence

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

See the source image

The White House announced today that President Donald Trump has nominated Vladimir Putin to replace Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence. “Mr. Putin is highly qualified for the position,” said Stephanie Grisham, White House press secretary. “He served many years as KGB chief under the former Soviet Union. He understands intelligence and espionage like no other.” The President said of his nominee, “Vladimir has assured me that he will put an end once and for all to this fake Russian witch hunt. He’s going to weed all the bad apples out of the intelligence community.” Attorney General, William Barr praised Mr. Putin’s experience and ability adding, “His expertise will prove invaluable in my planned prosecution of former special prosecutor Robert Mueller and his gang for their bogus and illegitimate investigation of the president.”

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and representative Devin Nunes expressed enthusiasm for the President’s choice. “Mr. Putin is a patriot. He is going to put an end to the deep state once and for all,” said Mr. Nunes. Mr. McCarthy expressed his scorn for Democratic concerns about Mr. Putin’s eligibility and fitness for the job. “First they complain because the president’s nominee for intelligence chief has no experience. Then they carp about Mr. Putin because he has too much experience!” When asked whether Mr. Putin’s lack of citizenship disqualified him from serving in the United States government, Mr. McCarthy dismissed the concern as a distraction. “This is just another smear campaign against the president. Look, Barack Obama wasn’t even born in the United States and he got to be president. You didn’t hear the Dems moaning about that.”

Response from the Republican controlled Senate was more subdued, with many Democratic members fearing that Mr. Putin’s position as President of Russia might put him in a position of conflict. That concern was also on the minds of some Republicans. Still, Republicans are backing the president. Said South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, “Mr. Putin wouldn’t have been my first choice. But what the heck, he’s got white skin and a penis, he’s not a liberal and he’s been consistent in his support of our president. That’s good enough for me.” So, too, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell voiced his support. “We are prepared to introduce a motion in the Senate to grant American citizenship to Mr. Putin so there will be no legal impediment to his assuming the position of Director of Intelligence. After all, he came here legally.” After expressing some reservations, Senator Susan Collins of Maine also announced that she would vote to confirm Mr. Putin. “I have spoken to Mr. Putin and he has assured me that he has America’s best interests at heart and I believe him,” she said in a statement to her colleagues in the Senate.

No date has yet been set for Mr. Putin’s confirmation hearing, but the president is confident that he has enough votes in the Senate to get his nominee appointed.

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FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen.  “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.” John Steinbeck

Why I No Longer Say the Pledge of Allegiance

I grew up saying the pledge of allegiance in class each day in elementary school and at assemblies, games and civic events throughout high school and college. Yet from the time I was old enough to think about it, I felt vaguely uncomfortable about the pledge. Though it is not explicitly religious, reciting it always had a liturgical feel. We were required to take off our hats, place our hands on our hearts and focus our gaze on the flag. “I pledge allegiance to the flag…and to the republic for which it stands…” It was very much like reciting the Apostles Creed in church-except we were not in church and we were not all Christians. Perhaps that was the point. As different as we all were in terms of our faith (or no faith) traditions, we were nevertheless united in this “pledge of allegiance” to one nation under god (whichever one that might have been). If this wasn’t religion, it sure felt like it. Consequently, it was a little unsettling for a strict Missouri Synod Lutheran like me raised to believe that one ought not to be involved in synchronistic worship.

In spite of these misgivings, however, I could still justify the pledge on a very high level of abstraction. We all have worldly loyalties and commitments of varying degrees solemnized by a formal statement of some kind. I pledged to be faithful to my wife until death parts us. When I took out my first mortgage, I signed a pledge to the bank that I would make the all the payments in a timely fashion as spelled out in the note. Clearly, I am obliged to share with my fellow citizens the expense of government that provides the many services and protections making our shared life together possible. So, what is wrong with articulating this shared civil commitment in a verbal pledge?

If that is all there were to it, I could live with the pledge of allegiance. But I am no longer convinced that the pledge is a benign recital of civic duty. It purports to demand much more. Allegiance, as defined by Mirriam Webster, is first and foremost the obligation of a feudal vassal to his liege lord. It harkens back to a medieval social arrangement under which peasants were obliged to live on their lord’s land and give him homage, labor, and a share of the produce in exchange for military protection. With the rise of nationalism, this duty of allegiance was transferred to the nation state. Like the liege lord, the state commands obedience and a willingness on the part of its citizens to kill and die for it. Nations, whatever form they may take, all have one common denominator: they are the sole agents authorized to take human life. Homicide is not murder when committed under color of law by appropriate authorities. In this respect, the state usurps the prerogative of God. That alone should cause us to wonder whether it is appropriate for a disciple of Jesus to pledge unconditional loyalty of this kind to any state.

Coupled with the loyalty every nation state demands, however, is the myth of American exceptionalism and its next of kin, white supremacy. The belief that America is uniquely destined to dominate the continent led to the ruthless ethnic cleansing of Native American nations. Belief in the superiority of the “white race” justified the slave trade and the use of slave labor to drive the nation’s economy to unprecedented production of wealth, but only for the master class. These two myths have provided the rationalization for decades of Jim Crow segregation and now drive the cries of “send her back” bellowed by that howling white lynch mob known as the GOP base. White supremacy is not a long discarded doctrine of the distant past. It is alive and well normalizing racism, bringing neo-nazi extremism into mainline politics and driving the inhumane practices of deportation and family division at our border. American exceptionalism insists that we must turn a blind eye to these realities and continue to insist, as the saying goes, “My country right or wrong.” That sounds very much like a disfunctional and warped sort of religious faith. I have therefore reached the conclusion that American nationalism is a rival religion demanding from us uncritical faith and obedience blind to the realities of our history. Thus, pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America is idolatry. For that reason, I can’t do it anymore and I won’t.

I think that American Christians need to acknowledge that these ideologies of American exceptionalism and white supremacy have been propped up and legitimized with biblical imagery, often with the aid of the church. America fancies itself the new Israel driving the Canaanites from the land. America sees itself as the “chosen people” with a God given mission to tame the wilderness. America’s wars are all “holy wars” and our soldiers are martyrs making the ultimate sacrifice for that god we call America. We, the American clergy (yours truly included), have been only to eager to bless our nation’s carnage with invocations and benedictions on Veterans Day and Memorial Day observances, thereby feeding the lie that our soldiers all died in the noble service of protecting our freedoms though, in fact, the lives of these young people were too often squandered in wars of aggression. This has to end if we are going to witness credibly to the just and peaceful reign of Christ.

I understand that refusing to take the pledge of allegiance is commonly understood as nothing short of treason. “If you hate America so much, why don’t you go somewhere else?” one of my exasperated friends recently asked me. Rest assured, I do not hate America. Following Jesus leaves no room for hatred. Though America has made itself an enemy to me, I am determined not to be an enemy to America. There is much about America that I love, such as its vast wilderness areas faithfully preserved by the United States Parks Department. I love the many vibrant communities and neighborhoods throughout this diverse land and the musical, artistic and cultural contributions they continue to make. I honor and respect the sacrifices made by so many individuals whose words and actions call this nation to follow the lead of its better angels and reject the dark and sinister forces of greed, racism and imperialism that have driven it historically. I will continue to vote, pay my taxes and support government agencies providing the services we need to thrive and protecting the most vulnerable among us from the ravages of poverty, sickness and exploitation. I will continue to pray for this country and its leaders because, as the prophet Jeremiah points out, its welfare is the welfare of us all. Though I cannot give America my allegiance, I will always offer it my love.

I know that these commitments of mine to America do not rise to the level of what many consider appropriate patriotism. That doesn’t bother me, however. I know of no instance in which Jesus calls upon his disciples to be patriotic. He does, however, call upon his followers to love the Lord God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. The word all leaves no room for any another sovereign, least of all one whose violence and injustice oppress the most vulnerable among us and wounds the very Body of Christ. Jesus calls upon me to love my neighbor as myself. I can’t square the parable of the Good Samaritan with cries of “America first,” with turning away refugees in desperate need of sanctuary or with the increasingly racist rhetoric spewing from the mouths of America’s leaders. So I am done with the pledge of allegiance. Henceforth, when invited to partake in that ritual I will, most respectfully, remain seated and silent.