Monthly Archives: October 2019

These Days it’s Hard to be a Pacifist


Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:27-31

Like me, you have probably been watching the tragic images of ethnic cleansing taking place in northern Syria as Turkish forces kill and displace thousands of Kurds. As a professed pacifist, I feel particularly conflicted at times like these. I am appalled by our nation’s betrayal of a people who have put their lives on the line to help us in our fight. However critical anyone might be about our military involvement in the middle east, there can be no denying that President Trump’s cowardly, inept and possibly corrupt handling of the situation has precipitated a humanitarian crisis. I sympathize with my friends who argue that we need to reverse course and intervene militarily. How can we stand by and allow innocent people to be slaughtered? Would Jesus have us turn our backs on the victims of genocide? Responding to these arguments with anything short of affirmation feels-just wrong.

It is also fair to point out that my personal profession of pacifism is practically meaningless. There is no longer a military draft and even if there were, it is highly unlikely that the number of a man my age would ever come up-unless the war is going very badly for us. It is easy for me to espouse turning the other cheek when no one is laying a hand on mine. No one is shooting at me and my loved ones and no hostile army is driving me out of my homeland. “Easy enough for you, pastor, to turn somebody else’s cheek,” you might say.

That’s all fair. Pacifism is a luxury for straight, white men like me, though perhaps it shouldn’t be. Maybe those of us who identify as pacifists should, as Paul would say, “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), taking up residence in places like northern Syria offering what assistance we can to the injured, displaced and homeless. If our witness is to be credible, we who live for peace should be at least as willing to die for it as those who fight for it. I am clearly not there yet and so you might rightly argue that my commitment to peace is only skin deep. I don’t have any concrete, positive solutions for the Kurds. So who am I to criticize those who do have solutions, however incomplete and morally imperfect they might be? Perhaps I should just keep my mouth shut.

Still, here we are on All Saint’s Sunday with Jesus commanding us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, turn the other cheek to an adversary that strikes us and refrain from defending our possessions. Near as I can tell, Jesus is taking violence and coercion off the table for his disciples. Therefore, if I would be Jesus’ disciple, I must renounce violence-even when it appears to be the only means of preventing what I anticipate will be even greater violence and injustice. It’s really quite simple, if extremely difficult in practice.

Here is where the “what about…” questions arise. “What about women beaten by abusive husbands?” “What if a deranged serial killer were about to put a knife in the heart of my three-year-old daughter?” “What would I do if I were president and knew that a dictator was about to conduct a campaign of ethnic cleansing against a defenseless group of people within his border?” “What would I have done about Hitler?” Such emotionally charged missives are usually the first responses I get from people who learn of my persuasion. As a former trial attorney, I recognize them for what they are: hypothetical questions that are not calculated to illicit information, but to extract a precise answer. To that end, they frame the issue in binary terms: fight or allow evil to prevail.

When you begin to identify the host of assumptions built into these hypotheticals, however, their superficiality becomes obvious. Fighting back presupposes that the woman in the first hypothetical has the physical strength and capacity to overcome her abuser. Lacking that, violent resistance is more likely to make matters worse for her than better. The second hypothetical assumes that I am packing a lethal weapon at the time of my daughter’s hypothetical attack-something I never do since I am a pacifist and, even if I were not, I understand that loaded weapons and children don’t mix well. It is also assumed that the attacker cannot not be persuaded against doing harm. It is assumed that I am a good enough shot to hit the attacker and not my daughter as well. (But if that is the case, why not just shoot the knife out of the attacker’s hand?) Under the third scenario you have to wonder how a pacifist managed to get elected commander and chief of the armed forces and entrusted with the nuclear codes. And under the Hitler scenario, just when would I be president? At the time of the Treaty of Versailles when I might have used my diplomatic influence to mitigate the punitive and humiliating victor’s justice imposed on Germany in defeat, thereby avoiding the circumstances giving rise to National Socialism? The problem with all of these questions is that the questioner is allowed to manipulate the facts in such a way that violence appears to be the only reasonable option. Give me the same freedom to control the assumptions and I can compel a different outcome.

The unstated assumptions in all these “what if” questions that seem to compel violent resistance as a moral imperative do not comport with reality. In fact, violence is seldom, if ever, required to resolve conflict. Every day nations resolve disputes over all manner of issues through diplomatic channels without resort to military force. Every day police officers respond to domestic disputes, bar fights and neighborhood disturbances without exercising force of any kind. In fact, most police officers complete their entire careers without ever having to discharge their weapons. Sadly, many of the instances in which the police do resort to violence have proven unnecessary. You wouldn’t know it from watching the evening news, but peaceful resolution of conflict is the norm. It’s just not as entertaining as a shoot-out and so does not make the media’s news cycle. That’s too bad, because if it did, we would discover that the world is really far more peaceful than we ever imagined.

The best response I have ever heard to those “what if” questions designed to corner the pacifist into conceding the necessity of violence in some circumstances comes from singer, songwriter and fellow pacifist Joan Baez. The following is an excerpt from an interview she gave to the Christian Science Monitor in 2013:

“To a question on the limits of her pacifism — or as she says ‘the what-if-someone-is-going-to-shoot-your-grandma’ scenario — she replies: “Anybody who says they would never do this in any situation would probably have to check themselves, but for the way I lived my life and the way I plan to live my life does not include violence,” she said. “The longer you practice nonviolence and the meditative qualities of it that you will need, the more likely you are to do something intelligent in any situation.” (Read the full interview at the Monitor’s website).

In short, it simply is not the case that we have but two alternatives when confronted with violence, namely, counter-violence or surrender to evil. There are many ways to resist evil, resolve conflict, overcome hostility and defeat injustice. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and numerous saints of the Mennonite and Quaker traditions illustrate how it is possible to confront evil forcefully without resort to violence. That is why I refuse to defend Jesus’ call to peacemaking and non-violence on terms dictated by anyone’s hypothetical questions. If Jesus tells me there is a way out of the vortex of violence and retribution that does not require me to become violent and vengeful, I believe him. If in any circumstance I cannot see that way, the fault lies in my lack of imagination and inspiration, not in the call of Jesus. For that reason, Baez’ call to “practice nonviolence and the meditative qualities” required to discern that way become all the more urgent. We need openness to the Holy Spirit that the mind of Christ be formed in us.

In the end, my commitment to pacifism is not grounded merely in the above cited verses from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain or any other particular verse of Scripture. My commitment is Christological. God is the ultimate pacifist who, when his only beloved Son was violently murdered, did not resort to violent retaliation. Instead, God raised up that precious gift we so cruelly rejected, and gave him back to us again. Jesus would not allow his disciples to use the sword in his defense. If violence cannot be employed to defend God’s only begotten son, when in God’s name can it ever be justified?

I close with the conclusion to a book that has been formative in my thinking, namely, What About Hitler? Brimlow, Robert W. (c. 2006, Brazos Press).

“At this juncture it is time for me to respond to the Hitler question: how should Christians respond to the kind of evil Hitler represents if just war and [theories of] supreme emergencies are precluded, and if we live with a different meaning of success?

“We must live faithfully; we must be humble in our faith and truthful in what we say and do; we must repay evil with good; and we must be peacemakers. This may also mean as a result that the evildoers will kill us. Then, we shall also die.

“That’s it. There is nothing else-or rather, anything else is only a footnote to this. We are called to live the kingdom as [Jesus] proclaimed it and be his disciples, come what may. We are, in his words, flowers flourishing and growing today, and tomorrow destined for the furnace. We are God’s people living by faith.”

Ibid. p. 151.

On a slightly different note, this is All Saints Sunday. Though the texts focus more on the saints struggling within the church militant, it is appropriate to give some thought also to the saints in light. Thus, the following poem:

The Communion of Saints

In the darkness of the nave,
Riding out the temporal wave,
God at rest but never sleeping
On its course this ship is keeping.
Windows screening out the day
Illustrate the hidden way
From which streams through dark of night
Rivers of eternal light.
Holy silence, solemn chime
Joins eternity with time.
Saints in joyous heavenly mirth
Greet those still awaiting birth.
With them mortal voices raise
Their poor, but faithful songs of praise.

Source: Anonymous

Why am I not a Roman Catholic?


Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46
Romans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36

Prayer of the Day: Gracious Father, we pray for your holy catholic church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in need, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Initially, I had thought to entitle this Reformation Day reflection: “Why I am still a Lutheran.” On further consideration,  however, I decided to change it into a question and entitle it “Why am I not a Roman Catholic?” That title reflects what has become an ever more urgent and personal inquiry for me. Several people I know and admire have “crossed the Tiber,” so to speak, and become Roman Catholics these last few years. They all have their own reasons. Some of my friends tell me that they are drawn to the “depth” and “texture” of the Mass next to which our protestant worship seems shallow and austere. One of my friends made the switch because she feels that the urgency of living our discipleship as a global communion which transcends all racial, ethnic and national loyalties is greater than any other moral or theological issue dividing the church. She feels the Roman Catholic Church is the strongest and best expression of that commitment. My friend is appalled at the way American protestant churches, in her view, have become little more than civic organizations dedicated to upholding middle class values and promoting some version of the American dream. I know a few people who have become Roman Catholics for no better reason than to escape the controversies sparked within the protestant churches over sexuality issues. (Good luck to them with that. I have a feeling their relief will be short lived.)

Whatever reasons these folks may have for turning to the Church of Rome, it is obvious that they do not find the theological controversies of the Reformation worth fighting about anymore. Or perhaps they feel that these controversies have been largely resolved or never really existed in the first place. Maybe we have been talking (or shouting) past each other all the time. I take seriously the decisions of my friends. After all, it was never the intent of the Reformation (for Lutherans anyway) to form a new Church. It was always our desire merely to reform the old one. At our best, we Lutherans have understood ourselves as a reform movement within the Church Catholic rather than another church. So, if the issues dividing us have been resolved or no longer matter, what excuse do I have for continuing to perpetuate a rift within the Church? If the Church is both One and Catholic, it should live that way and its unity should not be disturbed absent a clear departure from the gospel.

Of course, I can point to a lot of things I don’t like about the Roman Catholic Church. It’s stance on the place of women, contraception, treatment of gay and lesbian persons as well as several of its practices are deeply troubling to me. Yet for much of my life, the Lutheran Church held many similar positions and had its own practices that troubled me. Still, I remained Lutheran and worked for change within my church. These matters were not deal breakers then. Why should they be now? Why not join the Roman Catholic church recognizing that, just as in any church community, there will be need for change and reform as well as opportunities for witness and ministry?

Then there is the whole branding issue. Back in the days when there were enough dyed in the wool Lutherans around looking for a church, it made sense for a church to hang out the Lutheran shingle prominently. That way, all those Lutherans would come to our door before some other Lutheran church snatched them up. But those days are long gone. Few people are looking for churches of any kind these days and those that are don’t seem overly concerned about the brand. Over the last couple of decades, the Lutheran brand has become a liability. I find it increasingly difficult and awkward to explain to people I meet just what it means to be “Lutheran.” If I respond that we are a church that proclaims Jesus as Lord, I seem to be implying that Roman Catholics (and other churches) do not proclaim Jesus or at least do not do it as well as us. If I try to answer that question from a historical perspective and explain how the Lutheran Church was a product of the Reformation in the 16th century, their eyes glaze over. I am tired of explaining what a Lutheran is. I would rather talk about Jesus from within a united, or better, “catholic” church. About the only thing the Lutheran label is doing for us anymore is making clear to people who see it on our signs that they are not one of us.

So, why am I not a Roman Catholic? The best answer I can give is that the faith community in which I was baptized, in which I have been nurtured and under which I have sought to follow Jesus happens to have been Lutheran. The Lutheran churches were institutionally severed from the Roman Catholic Church centuries before I was born. Over those centuries, we each confronted the same issues presented by the modern world from our separate perspectives and arrived at some very different resolutions. Our separate paths have created new chasms that make “crossing over” profoundly difficult for those of us on both sides at a deeply personal level. I have to ask myself, could I join a church in which my daughter’s call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament is not recognized? Could I join a church in which the marriages of my gay and trans friends are deemed sinful? Could I join a church in which my family members would not be welcome to join me at the Lord’s Table? Make no mistake about it, the fractures in the Church Catholic occasioned by the Reformation are grievous wounds to the Body of Christ which must be healed. But I don’t believe that tearing myself away from the faith community that has shaped my relationship to Jesus and continues to inform my practice of discipleship will assist in such healing. In fact, it would most likely aggravate the wound.

Thus, even if I were entirely comfortable with the idea of joining the Roman Catholic Church (I am not yet), I probably would not do it. I would be just one soldier switching sides in a war that should not have been declared in the first place. I want reconciliation to the Church of Rome with all my heart, but not without the rest of my faith family. I want healing for the whole Body of Christ, not just for myself. That means living with the pain of separation while continuing the hard work of dialogue, listening, repenting, forgiving and, above all, praying for the Holy Spirit to make us one.

Here is a poem by Barbara Howes about homecoming, which I think we can read as a prayer for return to the home where we have never truly been, but which we earnestly seek and to which Jesus would call us: the oneness he shares with his Father in the binding love of the Holy Spirit.

The Homecoming

All the great voyagers return
Homeward as on an arc of thought;
Home like a ruby beacon burns
As they crest wind, scale wave, soar air;
All the great voyagers return,

Though we who wait never have done
Fearing the piteous accidents,
The coral reef sharp as the bones
It has betrayed, fate’s cormorant
Unleashed, whose diving’s never done.

Even the voyager of mind
May fail beneath behemoth’s weight;
Oh, the world’s bawdy carcass blinds
All but the boldest, rots the sails
And swamps the voyaging of the mind.

But all the great voyagers return
Home like the hunter, like the hare
To its burrow; below, earth’s axle turns
To speed their coming, the following fair
Winds bless their voyage, blow their safe return.

Source: Collected Poems 1945-1990, (c. 1954 by Barbara Howes,  pub. by Grove/Atlantic, Inc.) Barbara Howes (1914-1996) was an American poet. She was adopted by a well-to-do Massachusetts family and reared in Chestnut Hill.  She graduated from Bennington College in 1937 and worked briefly for the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in Mississippi. From 1943-1947 Howes edited the literary magazine, Chimera, living in Greenwich Village. In 1947 she married the poet William Jay Smith, and they lived for a time in England and Italy. They had two sons, David and Gregory, and divorced in the mid-1960s. The book from which the above poem is taken received a nomination for the 1995 National Book Award. You can read more about Barbara Howes and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

White House Announces Chicken to Replace Eagle Logo for American Military

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

The White House announced today that the eagle logo, employed on medals, flags and emblems throughout all branches of the military, is to be replaced by the chicken. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham explained that “chickens come home to roost and we feel that the chicken image best reflects the president’s policy of pulling our troops out of dangerous war zones and bringing them back home again.” While many veterans and active duty service people have expressed outrage at the change, the president defended his decision. “The chicken’s a noble bird,” he told reporters in an interview this morning. “It has a strong sense of self preservation. I respect that. I’ve always said that I don’t think much of soldiers like John McCain who get themselves captured or killed. I like those who don’t get captured-like me. I had the good sense not to go to Vietnam. That’s why I’m such a stable genius.”

The president also lashed out at reporters questioning his abandonment of the Kurds, American allies in the struggle against ISIS, to slaughter by the Turks. “The Kurds are fighting for their land. But where were they when we were fighting for our land in the Revolutionary War? We owe them nothing.” Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was quick to defend the president. “Look,” he said, “When Donald Trump said we would support the Kurds, he just was joking. That’s obvious. He’s a fun loving guy. Problem is, those Kurds have no sense of humor-and neither does the liberal fake news press.”

There is no word yet on when the new uniforms, medals and flags bearing the new chicken logo will begin to appear in regular use. But an anonymous source reports that a contract for their manufacture has been negotiated through the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, with a company in China.


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

Will Faith Die Out?


Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Prayer of the Day: O Lord God, tireless guardian of your people, you are always ready to hear our cries. Teach us to rely day and night on your care. Inspire us to seek your enduring justice for all this suffering world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:8.

Is it possible that the church might finally die out? Is it possible the voice of the good news will cease? Could it be that Jesus will return to find nothing he can recognize as his Body anywhere on earth? I don’t like entertaining that question, but if Jesus himself raises it, I think it behooves us to take it seriously.

According to projections from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Office of Research and Evaluation, the whole denomination will have fewer than 67,000 members in 2050, with fewer than 16,000 in worship on an average Sunday by 2041. [1] That is a sobering projection. Granted, projections like these are subject to numerous variables, some of which are impossible to predict. Nonetheless, the consistent historical decline in membership and attendance since its inception in 1987 more than suggests that the ELCA will be a much smaller church three or four decades from now.

There is no shortage of opinions about why this is happening to us. Numerous synodical initiatives have been launched with hopes of reversing the downward trend, each with its own snappy moniker, powerpoint presentation and glossy notebook full of discussion questions and group exercises for participants. When I was still active in full time parish ministry, I could count on receiving at least half a dozen adds in the mail and over the internet each week from consultants promising to transform my church from a small struggling congregation into a megachurch. There is but one common denominator among all these programs. They don’t work. After more than thirty years, the one thing we have learned is that we are on a trajectory of extinction and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it.

But that is not the same issue raised by Jesus’ troubling question. Jesus is not pondering the future of the church and its institutions-at least not directly. He is pondering the future of faith. Thus, before concerning ourselves with the ELCA’s survival (or the survival of any other denomination for that matter), we should be asking ourselves whether the ELCA is worth preserving. Are we the kind of community in which the mind of Christ is formed? Are we the kind of community that produces disciples of Jesus? Are we, as St. Paul urges, employing the scriptures in such a way “that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” II Timothy 3:17.

In one sense, I can answer these questions in the affirmative. All of the congregations to which I have belonged and which I have served helped to inform, shape and strengthen my faith. I know of more circumstances than I can number in which church communities have come to the aid and support of persons in desperate need. The church in which I grew up recognized and employed the gifts of a young man with learning impairments, enabling him to become a valued member of the community rather than a “social problem.” My fieldwork church successfully incorporated the poor, the homeless and persons with disabilities into its mission and ministry to the community. The congregations I have served over the years all have engaged faithfully in witness, service and advocacy. I know that our churches have been instrumental in forming the faith and character of many individuals who have taken their discipleship into the heart of their work and their communities. There is much that I can point to within the ELCA and its congregations with pride.

But that isn’t the whole story. It sometimes seems that these examples of faith active in love are the exception rather than the rule. On the whole, I fear we have done a piss poor job of forming disciples proficient in their understanding of our faith and equipped for the work of ministry. That is largely because we have created an ecclesiastical culture based on the model of a voluntary association providing services to its members. I attend church more or less regularly and contribute more or less generously (most likely less). In return, I am entitled to have my children baptized, confirmed and married. I am assured of pastoral care and visitation when needed and burial services when my time comes. Heaven, of course, is also an added benefit. Furthermore, because the church is all about me, my needs and my wants, I am free to switch my membership whenever my nose gets put out of joint or another congregation offers me a better deal. Teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16) is not a part of the transaction. Indeed, in our American culture of rugged individualism, where “nobody has got the right to tell me how to live my life,” these things are likely to be resented.

I don’t think that attempting to challenge this consumerist mentality will reverse our pattern of membership decline. In fact, it might even accelerate it. But that shouldn’t deter us. Membership decline is not the worst thing that can happen to a church. As Paul points out, in the absence of a solid grounding in faith and practice, people tend to “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” II Timothy 4:3-4. They are ripe pickings for the likes of Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Robert Jeffress, Tony Perkins, Pat Robertson and the like whose weird mix of end times hysteria, sexism, homophobia, American/Christian nationalism and subliminal white supremacy strike a chord resonating with so many folk fearful of a future that looks dark and threatening and who are ready to grasp any straw that promises to make sense of it all. Some of this low hanging fruit has been plucked from the midst of my own congregations. Too many men and women we have baptized and confirmed are very much in thrall to these charlatans and they are not happy when we publicly call them to account and dispute their ideologies.

In the recent past, I called for an ecumenical Barman like declaration from our bishops and theologians condemning specifically these distortions of our faith and reaffirming with boldness and clarity the good news of Jesus Christ confessed in the ecumenical creeds. While there have been no shortage of ecclesiastical statements condemning one or another of our government’s recent policy decisions, there has been no widely subscribed confessional declaration naming what I can only characterize as the heretical perversions of our faith undergirding the present reign of evil. I sometimes fear that my church lacks the courage, spiritual maturity and theological depth for any such declaration. I worry that the image of Jesus is becoming unrecognizable in our midst.

I can sympathize with our denominational leaders. It is hard challenging the consumerist mentality of a congregation. People who have for generations believed that the church to which they belong is their church and that the length of their membership and the significance of their contributions entitle them to a degree of influence inevitably feel that something is being taken away from them. Members who have ingrained upon their psyches the assumption that faith and patriotism are two sides of the same coin and that the church exists to shore up a particular notion of American cultural values will have a hard time adjusting to an understanding of church as a counter-cultural community that sometimes must question, criticize and even oppose the dominant culture. I have experienced all of this first hand and have the scars to prove it. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for a bishop charged with unifying the church facing the prospect of schism within a denominational body already under stress. There is a real danger that a lot of individuals and congregations will be driven away by a clarion call to repentance, faith and a radical change of ecclesiastical culture.

Yet if we fail to “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” (II Timothy 4:2) so that the gospel of Jesus Christ is made distinguishable from the ideologies pulling our members in every other direction, I am not convinced that our survival matters. It will mean nothing for the church to have survived if, upon his return, its Lord cannot recognize it as his Body.

Here is a poem reflecting on Jesus’ haunting question.

They say the hour’s getting late
The day of judgment will not wait.
Soon the dawn of doom will come
And darkness swallow up the sun.
So turn from earth your wandering eye
And fix your gaze upon the sky;
So when the Son of Man comes again,
He’ll find among us faith in men.

Yet if the end does not come soon,
We might yet colonize the moon,
Set our flags in the sands of Mars,
From there set sail for distant stars.
Given ten thousand years or more,
We might break down the last closed door,
And with your great machines transverse
The breadth of this whole universe.

Still, however far we roam,
No matter where we make our home,
We’ll meet again at each new shore
The Galilean troubadour
Whose troubling song will hound our race
In every coming time and place.
If God the end of time should save
For people in this distant age,
Will the Son of Man e’en then
Find among us faith in men?

Source: Anonymous

[1] See Faith + Lead, September 5, 2019 (published by Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN). Of course, the ELCA and the rest of American protestantism is but a drop in the bucket when compared with the whole church catholic, many parts of which are growing. I do not mean to equate the ELCA with the church universal. Still, the demise of the church in any part of the world is a serious matter.

Ignore the Little Girl at Your Peril


2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Psalm 111
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Prayer of the Day: Almighty and most merciful God, your bountiful goodness fills all creation. Keep us safe from all that may hurt us, that, whole and well in body and spirit, we may with grateful hearts accomplish all that you would have us do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Once upon a time, a little girl spoke and her words ignited an international furor and nudged the world just a little closer to a better tomorrow. I am not speaking of Greta Thunberg pictured above, but the anonymous slave girl featured in our lesson from the Second Book of Kings. This little Israelite girl was kidnapped during one of the many skirmishes between Israel and its arch nemesis, Aram. She ultimately wound up in the house of Naaman, a powerful and distinguished general where she served Naaman’s wife. Naaman had obviously distinguished himself as a mighty warrior. Nevertheless, beneath their supreme military rank, weapons of war, body armor and medals of valor, mighty warriors have the same vulnerabilities as the rest of us mortals. Even men who defeat armies and conquer kingdoms fall like the rest of us before viruses and bacteria. So it was with Naaman who, the Bible tells us, suffered from leprosy. This great warrior, once the star of military parades, seemed fated now to suffer a pitiable death on his sick bed.

But then the little slave girl spoke up. “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy,” said the little girl to her mistress. II Kings 5:3. The mistress, in turn, relayed to her husband what the little girl told her. Naaman took this information to his king and requested letters of introduction to the ruler of Samaria in order that he might find this great prophet capable of healing even leprosy.[1] Evidently, Naaman was well regarded by the king, who gave him everything he asked for. And so Naaman set out for Samaria, the capital of Israel, with “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.” II Kings 5:5. Something appears to have gotten lost in transmission between the little girl, her mistress, Naaman and the king of Aram. The letter appears to seek this marvelous miracle of healing not from the prophet but from the king of Israel. The king is naturally distraught. “Has the king of Aram gone mad? Does he really think I can cure leprosy? More likely he is seeking a pretext for another war!” So the king of Israel rends his garments in distress.

Somehow, Elisha the prophet gets wind of the king’s distress (perhaps through chatter on the slave netowrk?). “No worries,” he tells him. “Send Naaman to me. I’ve got this.” And so the king does. Naaman arrives at the prophet’s door with his entourage, no doubt expecting a welcome befitting a military hero. Instead, he is met by Elisha’s servant who tells this general, who is accustomed to bathing in the pristine waters of his own country, to wash seven times in the muddy, mucky Jordan. This is more than the general can endure. He rides way in fit of rage, his hopes dashed and his pride wounded. No doubt he was entertaining fantasies of returning with his army to knock Israel’s pompous little king off his throne and deliver a sound thrashing to his snake oil peddling prophet who treated him with such contempt. But once again, the voice of reason bubbles up from the slaves. “What’s wrong with you, man? You were ready to give that prophet ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of garments for his services. But he didn’t take any of that. All he asked was that you take a bath. Isn’t even the remote chance of a cure for leprosy worth getting a little wet?” Naaman relents, washes in the Jordan and the rest is history. The story concludes with Naaman, once Israel’s mortal enemy, returning to his homeland a believer in Israel’s God.

We like to imagine that history is driven by the actions of kings, generals, great prophets, presidents and members of congress. But more often, I think, major events are set in motion by anonymous slaves and children. That shouldn’t surprise us, given that we worship the Word made flesh in the infant born to a homeless couple in a barn. And that brings me back to Greta Thunberg who made headlines with her passionate address to the United Nations, chiding world leaders over their gross irresponsibility in failing to address climate change. Our president in his usual presidential manner retweeted the following by someone named “Kellie” “She’s getting the best education socialism can steal. I won’t be held hostage by someone who just got a learner’s permit. Sorry kiddo! Tell Al to try again.” In a slightly more dignified, if equally condescending manner, Russian president Vladimir Putin referred to Greta as a “kind but poorly informed teenager.”  The Illinois Family Institute, a right wing evangelical blog promoting the likes of Rev. Franklin Graham, askes, “can’t Greta Thunberg’s parents keep her from traveling across the ocean to thunder at adults at the U.N.?” If I may summarize these comments, they amount to the old moronic dictum, “children should be seen not heard.” All of this goes to show that weak minds float along in the same gutter. Wise people know that when little girls speak, it behooves us to listen.

Here is a poem by David Wagoner about the fragile, intuitive wisdom of children too often lost on adults and lost to children themselves if ignored, neglected or stolen through socialization in an adult culture.

That Child

That child was dangerous. That just-born
Newly washed and silent baby
Wrapped in deerskin and held warm
Against the side of its mother could understand
The language of birds and animals
Even when asleep. It knew why Bluejay
Was scolding the bushes, what Hawk was explaining
To the wind on the cliffside, what Bittern had found out
While standing alone in marsh grass. It knew
What the screams of Fox and the whistling of Otter
Were telling the forest. That child knew
The language of Fire
As it gnawed at sticks like Beaver
And what Water said all day and all night
At the creek’s mouth. As its small fingers
Closed around Stone, it held what Stone was saying.
It knew what Bear Mother whispered to herself
Under the snow. It could not tell
Anyone what it knew. It would laugh
Or cry out or startle or suddenly stare
At nothing, but had no way
To repeat what it was hearing, what it wanted most
Not to remember. It had no way to know
Why it would fall under a spell
And lie still as if not breathing,
Having grown afraid
Of what it could understand. That child would learn
To sit and crawl and stand and begin
Putting one foot forward and following it
With the other, would learn to put one word
It could barely remember slightly ahead
Of the other and then walk and speak
And finally run and chatter,
And all the Tillamook would know that child
Had forgotten everything and at last could listen
Only to people and was safe now.

Source: Poetry, May 2000. David Wagoner (b. 1926) is an American poet who has written many collections of poetry and ten novels. He attended Pennsylvania State University and received a master’s degree in English from Indiana University in 1949. Wagoner has taught at the University of Washington since 1954 and served as editor of Poetry Northwest and was elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1978. He currently teaches in the low-residency MFA program of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island, Washington. You can learn more about David Wagoner and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

[1] For reasons known only to God and the inscrutable minds of the makers of the common lectionary, verses 4-6 are omitted from this reading relating what transpired between Naaman and his king. Thus, the congregation finds itself wondering on Sunday morning, “What letter? And how did the King of Israel get involved with this business?”

Late Night Television Reeling from News of Possible Impeachment

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

See the source imageLate night comedy figures are reportedly in a panic over the potential impeachment of President Donald Trump. “This is serious,” Stephen Colbert, host of the Late Night Show, was heard to tell a gathering of his colleagues. “If Trump goes, we are left with Pence-and how unfunny is he.” Colbert went on to point out that Mr. Trump’s departure from office would likely be followed by the elevation of Mike Pence and his election in 2020 or the election of a Democratic challenger-neither of whom are likely to be the least bit funny. “Joking on Mike is like beating up on a kindergartener,” said Colbert. “And the dems? How can you make a joke about a chief executive who goes to work and does the job?” Colbert further explained that, “without Trump, our ratings go through the floor, the networks drop us and we all wind up on the Las Vegas/Atlantic City casino circuit.”

Jimmy Kimmel expressed similar concerns. “Trump has been our meal ticket,” he said. “Oh we got a few good laughs on George W. and Bill Clinton, but that took some work. Donald Trump-that man is a self executing joke. All we have to do is wait for the tweets and soundbites to come in and put them up on the screen.” Seth Meyers concurred adding, “this could be the biggest hit we have taken since Sarah Palin dropped off the grid.” Jimmy Fallen agreed saying, “we might be looking at the driest comedic stretch we have seen since the Obama presidency.”

Daily Show host Trever Noah expressed a more sanguine view. “Look,” he said. “We have to view this philosophically. We have had a great run for over two years. We all knew this would end someday. Trump’s impeachment just means we have to go back to writing our own material for a while.” So, too, comedian John Stewart expressed a degree of optimism. “I have great faith in the American people,” he said. “They gave us Donald Trump and I think they can be trusted to serve up another electoral joke sooner rather than later.”


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