Monthly Archives: January 2021

Sen. Ted Cruz is Recipient of “Benedict Arnold Award”

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

Today the Commission for Recognition of Treason, Sedition and Incitement (CRTSI) announced the winner of its coveted Benedict Arnold Award. Named after the notorious traitor and trusted major general under George Washington who attempted to surrender West Point to the British during the Revolutionary War, the prize has been awarded to such infamous Americans as Brian Patrick Regan and Aldrich Ames. This year’s recipient is Senator Ted Cruz.

Senator Cruz had to fight off some tough competition. Josh Hawley, Kevin McCarthy, Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert, Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan were all serious contenders.“It was a tough call,” said Commission chairperson, Taran Feathers. “There were many formidable candidates. But in the end,” said Feathers, “we felt Mr. Cruz was the most deserving.” Feathers pointed out that Mr. Cruz demonstrated an exemplary degree of dedication to dismantling American democracy. “He was willing to throw his wife and father under the bus for the cause,” he said. “How much more committed can a man be?”

According to Feathers, many of the contestants are upset over Cruz’s first place finish. They feel Cruz’s win was fraudulent, that the CRTSI’s voting procedures were illegal and that the contest was rigged. In an effort to mollify the disappointment of losing contestants and avoid legal challenges, CRTSI is awarding “participation trophies” to all Republican senators and representatives. Each will receive a certificate stating: With gratitude from the American people for your support of our nation’s first coup d’etat. “It’s only fair,” said chairman Feathers. “The attack on our Capital could never have gotten off the ground without the silence and tacit support of all the Republicans in Congress.”

**************************************************************

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

On the Care of Words and the Cultivation of Language

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Prayer of the Day: Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful redeemer, for the countless blessings and benefits you give. May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day praising you, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.” Psalm 139:4.

It is more than a little unsettling to be told that we are so well understood that our very thoughts are known before they find their way into words. More disturbing still is Jesus’ warning that, on the day of judgment, “people will render account for every careless word they utter.” Matthew 12:36. That accounting came due with a vengeance last week. If the horrific events we witnessed five days ago have taught us anything, it is that words are powerful and speech has consequences. Words maliciously fashioned into lies and employed to trigger raw anger can incite violence. That is exactly what we saw on Wednesday as an angry mob sacked the United States Capital.

Sometimes, however, we misspeak without intending harm. Often, the consequences of our words do not become clear until after they have passed our lips. Who among us does not regret words spoken carelessly, ignorantly or in anger? One of the less fortunate characteristics of texts, e-mails and social media is that through them words carelessly uttered can spread faster and further to a larger audience than ever before. Moreover, once they are out in cyberspace, ill advised words are practically impossible to erase, recall or correct.

As one whose careers, both in law and in parish ministry, involved working with words, I take this call to circumspection in our use of language seriously. I have been blessed with teachers throughout my lifetime who taught me to appreciate the beauty and persuasiveness of a potent word strategically placed in a well crafted sentence. I was mentored by attorneys who taught me the importance of making sound, fact based arguments from the building blocks of tightly drawn paragraphs, each laying the groundwork for the next. Most important, I have learned both from instruction and experience how a single word can carry shades of meaning that can strengthen or sabotage one’s entire message. Like learning to play a musical instrument, good writing requires life long learning, voracious reading and practice, practice, practice. You never arrive at the point where you can re-read something you have written only yesterday without saying to yourself, “I could have said that better.”

For that reason, few things are more painful to me than listening to a long, rambling “stream of consciousness” sermon strung together with lame attempts at humor. Few things are more frustrating than trying to make sense of lengthy posts rife with grammatical errors, filled with spelling mistakes and lacking in punctuation. But while sloppiness and stupidity in writing and speaking annoy me, worse yet is the misuse of language to mislead or appeal to our darkest fears and prejudices. Back in the 1980s when the term “welfare queens” was coined to demean women on public assistance, nobody had to ask what color they were. Likewise, nobody ever had to say that black men are inherently dangerous. All they had to do is repeat the name “Willy Horton.” Words like “communist,” “fascist” and “socialist” are thrown about like molotov cocktails in political discourse these days with little explanation of what they actually mean in their historical context or how, if at all, they might apply to current circumstances. All too frequently, political and religious discussion amounts to little more than name calling and heated exchanges of memes and bumper sticker slogans. Under these conditions, language loses its power. Words become empty. Talk really is “cheap.”

As disciples of Jesus, we ought to be concerned about the health of words and language. Do we not confess that the Word, the Second person of the Trinity, became flesh? John 1:14. Do we not assert that “faith comes through what is heard and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.?” Romans 10:17. Are we not admonished “Always [to] be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls [us] to account for the hope that is within [us]?” I Peter 3:15. It is, I would argue, our Christian duty to write and speak elegantly, taking care that our letters, posts and articles employ accurate spelling, proper grammar and appropriate punctuation. Faithful discipleship means expanding our vocabularies to enrich our prayer lives, deepen our understanding and empower our witness. It is our responsibility to use words with care and to acquaint ourselves with all shades of meaning they carry, especially their potential to mislead our hearers, perpetuate racial stereotypes, demean others or incite hatred when used in particular contexts. We owe it to ourselves, our neighbors and to the world to which we are ambassadors for Christ to use the gift of speech and writing with reverence, care and circumspection. May the words of the psalmist be our prayer:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14.

Here is a poem by Pauli Murry about the stewardship of words.

Words

We are spendthrifts with words,
We squander them,
Toss them like pennies in the air–
Arrogant words,
Angry words,
Cruel words,
Comradely words,
Shy words tiptoeing from mouth to ear.
But the slowly wrought words of love
and the thunderous words of heartbreak–

Those we hoard.

Source: Dark Testament and Other Poems, Murray,  Anna Pauline (c. 1970 by Pauli Murry; pub. by Liveright Publishing Corporation). Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray (1910 – 1985) was an American civil rights activist who became a lawyer, a women’s rights activist, Episcopal priest and author. She was the first African American woman to be ordained in the Episcopal Church in the United States. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Murray was orphaned when young and raised by her maternal grandparents in Durham, North Carolina. She received her BA from Hunter College in 1933. In 1940, fifteen years before Rosa Parks sparked the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus to a white passenger, Murray and a friend were arrested in Virginia for violating segregation laws, taking seats in the “whites only” section of a city bus. Murray later attended and graduated first in her class at Howard University where she became deeply involved in feminism, coining the phrase “Jane Crow.” She was the first African American to earn a law degree from Yale Law School. As a lawyer, Murray argued civil rights and women’s rights cases and was appointed by President Kennedy to serve on the Presidential Commission for the Status of Women. She was also a cofounder of the National Organization for Women. You can read more about Pauli Murray and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

An Open Letter of Thanks to Congressional Republicans Who are (finally) Speaking Out

Dear Republicans:

For the last twenty-four hours I have listened to you abhor the sacking of our nation’s capital by hoards of your party’s base, waving Trump flags, looting and vandalizing as they went. “That isn’t who we are,” is the constant refrain I keep hearing from you. At the risk of being indelicate, bull shit. Those are the people you have been courting for the last four years. Those are the people you have been defending while ignoring their racist rants and threats of violence. These are the people your president has been inciting for the last four years, whipping them into racist and sexist chants at his rallies. That despicable mob you now pretend to excoriate carried the banner of your president as they smashed the windows of our capital, terrorized our elected officials and desecrated the halls of congress. Please don’t pretend they were a renegade band of extremists. They are your people.

Don’t tell me either that you never believed your support of Donald Trump would come to this. During his presidential campaign, you heard him mock a disabled reporter at one of his rallies while his audience howled with laughter. You saw how the 2016 Republican National Convention cheered as Trump mocked the family of a soldier who died in combat. You heard him refer to women who offended him as “pigs” and “dogs.” You heard him boast about how he sexually assaulted women whenever he had the inclination telling you, with a sneer, that “when you’re a celebrity, they let you do it.” You know that he referred to African nations as “shit hole” countries and called Mexicans murderers and rapists. You heard him declare that he would not concede the 2016 election if he were to lose. You gave him a pass when he threatened to withhold military aid to an American ally under attack in exchange for “dirt” on his political opponent. If you had any objection to his trying to steal the election by intimidating a state official into “finding” him enough votes to change the outcome of the election, I didn’t hear anything from you. You stuck with Donald Trump like white on rice-until yesterday.

I guess it’s kind of hard to keep pretending that the lynch mob you call your base is just a group of faithful patriots when they are smashing down your doors, screaming threats at you and ransacking your offices. Trump’s hateful rhetoric and violent threats didn’t matter much when they were directed against people of color, the disabled or your political opponents. But I guess that when your own skin is in the game and the mob comes looking for you with rope in hand, you get religion fast. Nothing like a deathbed conversion, is there?

I hope you all got the elephant crap scared out of you. I hope you are still having nightmares about what could have happened to you if that angry mob had managed to bust into that chamber before the police were able to spirit you away. Because I have been having those nightmares for the last four years while you gambled recklessly with our national security, toyed with our health care and played games with our very lives in the midst of the worst pandemic we have experienced in a century. You flat out ignored the constant, willful, persistent lies your president told the American people-lies that destroyed the careers of faithful public servants, lies that endangered our crucial national alliances, lies about Covid-19 that cost untold thousands of lives-all to rack up votes. You all supported Donald Trump or remained silent when he launched a campaign to convince his base-your base-that the 2020 election had been stolen from them. You have demonstrated a reckless disregard for your country’s wellbeing by championing a man that you knew was a cruel, racist bully-and you did it to buy the votes of the lowest, meanest, most ignorant and malicious elements of our nation’s population. And it worked for you-until the day it blew up in your face and the monster you created came stalking you.

Unlike you, I understand men like Donald Trump. They were the guys I knew in high school who thought it was funny to dunk the head of a special needs kid in the toilet. They were the guys I knew in college who gang banged freshmen girls and joked about it. They were failed supervisors who tried to keep their jobs by blaming and firing their subordinates to cover their own mistakes. They are criminals convicted of unspeakable crimes who complain that they, not the people they have injured, are the true victims. Guys like Trump and his mob know nothing of loyalty, nothing of affection, nothing of duty. They’ll use you for as long as they need you. Then you are yesterday’s newspaper. Just ask Jeff Sessions, Michael Cohen and Mike Pence. Or, better yet, ask anyone in that crowd Trump incited to attack you. After all, Trump promised from behind his bullet proof screen to march with his worshipers to the capital steps on their crusade to save America. But in fact, the valiant Commander Bone Spurs raced back to the safety of his bunker to watch the spectacle he unleased on TV. Bottom line, you all brought this bull into the china closet with the tragically mistaken belief that you could ride him. So tell me, who rode who?

Now you are shocked. Now you are horrified. Now you are appealing for order, respect and civility. Now you condemn Donald Trump for inciting violence. I only wish you had been as eager to protect the United States Constitution, the rule of law and the wellbeing of the American people as you were to save your own precious skins. Thanks for nothing.

Rev. Peter A. Olsen (retired)

President Trump’s Spiritual Advisor Calls upon Evangelicals to “Pray Donald Trump into Another Term”

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

Today Rev. Paula White, spiritual advisor to President Donald Trump, called upon evangelicals to join together and “pray Donald Trump to victory” on January 6, 2021. On that day a joint session of Congress will certify President Elect, Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. A number of Republican senators and representatives have vowed to object to the certification of the electoral college vote in a last ditch effort to keep Trump in office for another term.

“The press and the Democrats say it’s a done deal,” said White. “But they don’t know the power of prayer.” Rev. White is calling upon believers everywhere to join in prayer throughout the day. “I want all born again believers in this country to get down on their knees, fold their hands, close their eyes and repeat again and again for as long as it takes:

“I do believe in Donald
I do, I do, I do!
I do believe in Donald
I do, I do, I do!
I do believe in Donald
I do, I do, I do!”

Rev. White insisted that the election is not legitimate “and I don’t give a hoot about what a bunch of pressies, liberals and eggheads say about the so-called facts.” She went on to say that, “there is too much emphasis on facts and truth these days. What we need is faith-strong faith, blind faith, unwavering faith. That’s why I’m calling on all the faithful to believe: believe, believe and believe.”

**************************************************************

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

The Perils of Going Down into the Water

BAPTISM OF OUR LORD

Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

Prayer of the Day: Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters. Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit, that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:1-2.

Life had its primordial beginnings in the ocean. So evolutionary biologists tell us. The ancients knew this instinctively. There are countless legends recounting the earth’s creation arising out of epic battles in which divine heroes defeated great sea monsters, forming the land from the heart of the sea. So, too, the biblical account in our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures has God’s breath sweeping over the waters, breathing into them what will soon yield light, land, fish, vegetation, animals and finally human beings in God’s own image.

Water is life. You can’t get away from that reality when you live in close proximity to the ocean. Every morning little boats leave our harbor here in Wellfleet seeking, fish, clams, scallops and the rest of the ocean’s bounty. Though the tourist industry is by far the biggest contributor to our economy, the fishing industry remains an important piece of our common livelihood. It has always been so. In centuries past, the marshes with their wealth of shellfish provided sustenance for the Nauset tribes inhabiting Cape Cod long before the coming of European settlers. Their culture and society revolved around the rhythms of the tide and the changing seasons bringing with them varieties of sea mammals and shore birds. They understood, as should we, that our very lives depend upon the waters.

But as necessary as water is to life, it is also an agent of death and destruction. You can appreciate the beauty of the ocean from the shore, but, as one mariner once told me, “if you venture out into the ocean, you better respect it.” The ocean bottom is littered with ships great and small caught in storms and wrecked on shoals. The ocean has claimed the life of many an experienced skipper who made but one dangerous miscalculation. The cemetery down the road from where I live contains the remains of some.  One of them was Elisha Higgins, Jr., son of Elisha and Rebecca Higgins. He died at sea in 1836. His epitaph reads:

“My body on the wreck was found
And now lies buried underground.
From the raging sea my spirit did fly
To reign with God above the sky.”

The biblical witnesses knew all too well the dangers of the ocean, the haunt of the great monster “Leviathan.” Psalm 104:25-26. The terror it held for Israel is reflected in the 107th Psalm:

Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the mighty waters;
they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their calamity;
they reeled and staggered like drunkards,
and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out from their distress;
he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders. Psalm 107:23-32.

Again, we who live on the Cape are painfully aware of this reality.  The ocean is literally taking the ground from under our feet. Cape Cod is being eaten away by the ocean at an average rate of three feet per year-and that is without the aid of global warming. There are not a few summer homes and cottages, once a safe distance from the ocean’s edge, that are not long for this world-like the one pictured. The Cape is only about twenty-thousand years old. While that precedes all recorded human history, it constitutes a mere second in terms of geological time. Another ten thousand years and the land I am living on will be under the ocean.

So it should not surprise us that Jesus’ ministry begins with immersion in water, the bearer of both life and death. Just as the waters of the Jordan bringing life to the promised land should summon up the image of creation, so too we should hear in the words “this is my beloved son” an echo of words spoken to Abraham centuries before: “After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’” Genesis 22:1-2.

Without mincing words, the Sacrament of Baptism is a human sacrifice. It plunges us into the darkness of death. In it we place upon the altar a human life and tie it to the destiny of a man who poured out his own life proclaiming the reign of God under the shadow of an empire that ultimately crucified him. And among us Lutherans, that life most often belongs to an infant who has no more say in the matter than did poor Isaac. Let that sink in and think about how often you may have heard people say to their children, “I only want you to be happy.” Actually, I don’t believe I have ever said that to my children. Of course, I would prefer that they be happy rather than unhappy. But I want more for them than happiness. I want for them to be faithful disciples of Jesus. I want them to be good, compassionate and courageous. If the price of that is the loss of their happiness, so be it.

Reflecting on Jesus’ baptism, as well as our own, is a good way to begin the secular new year. A good plunge into the waters of life and death might be exactly what we need. It could be a long time before limitations on the accoutrements of happiness imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic are lifted. But opportunities for doing justice, exercising compassion and caring for our neighbors abound. Those of us engaged in this good work often discover that the rewards of friendship and community, whether cultivated within our households, built from behind masks at a socially safe distance or developed in cyberspace, bring us a depth of joy worth more than that elusive thing called “happiness.” With any luck, this horrible pandemic will at least have taught us that happiness is highly overrated.

Here is a poem reflecting on the ocean and its life giving yet death dealing power over all souls that encounter it.

On the Beach

The oceans of the world are one.
One great commonwealth
Teaming with protoplasm
In every conceivable form,
Yet one being is she,
One heart and one soul.
Though she rules the better part
Of this planet, still she rages,
Throwing herself against
Rocks, seawalls and dams
Designed to keep her at bay.
She stretches her body to cover
The sandy shore as a lover strains
And struggles in the embrace,
Then withdraws to her place,
Exhausted, satisfied yet
Even so planning her next encounter.
Her appetite knows no limits,
Hungering forever and always
For more sailors and ships
To devour and hide forever
In the depths of her icy bowls.
She is so deep, so dark and so blue
That being in her presence empties you,
Draws all memory out of your soul
And leaves nothing but sound
Of breakers crashing over sand,
Fragments of stone and shell
Tumbling head over heel
Winds capping the dark blue
Waters with frothy white,
The roar of churching tides,
But above all, the deafening silence.
They say that in the womb of that silence,
A man can lose his pain.

Source: Anonymous