Monthly Archives: February 2021

The Cross and the Death Penalty


Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:23-31
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

Prayer of the Day: O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life. Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34.

I would be more than rich if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard these words of Jesus employed metaphorically. The term “bearing one’s cross” has been used to describe the annoyance of dealing with disagreeable co-workers, getting along with a bothersome neighbor, aches and pains that accompany old age, a streak of bad luck and just about every other uncomfortable or inconvenient circumstance one might encounter. I am not making light of these afflictions. Life deals some of us more than our share of tragic and undeserved body blows. Some of us bear up under those blows with grace, courage and dignity. Yet as admirable as that surely is, it isn’t the same as taking up the cross of Christ.

In the gospels, the cross is not a metaphor. It is the way in which Jesus actually died. Jesus’ death was not a tragic accident, a miscarriage of justice or even a noble sacrifice made in the service of a lofty principle or ideal. His death was the expected and, one might say, inevitable consequence of the life he lived. Jesus lived fully under the reign of God he proclaimed, a reign of bread, shelter and dignity for all, especially those regarded as “the least.” That life put him on a collision course with the reign of Caesar, the only Lord Rome recognized. All who claimed that title for Jesus risked bearing the cross Jesus bore-and not in any metaphorical sense.

Sadly and with the church’s blessing, the cross has become a benign symbol with no more content than a heart or a shamrock. Seeing it suspended on slim gold chains, adorned with jewels and worn with everything from dungarees to formal attire, one would never guess that the cross is actually an instrument of torture and execution. Can you imagine anyone wearing the replica of a hangman’s noose on a gold chain around their neck? To call that an exercise in extremely poor taste would be an understatement. Yet Jesus’s call is for his disciples not merely to wear the cross on their lapels, but to hang on it.

Our gospel lesson reminds us that we follow a Lord who was tried as a criminal, found guilty in a court of law and executed by state authorities. It was not criminals, terrorists or foreign enemies that killed Jesus. Jesus was prosecuted by religious people who thought they were doing their duty, sentenced to death by a Roman governor in the interest of preserving the peace and executed by soldiers who were merely following orders. Jesus spent his final hours in the company of two fellow convicts under the same sentence of death. These two anonymous death eligible convicts held the honor James and John so coveted, namely, being present at Jesus’ right and left at his coming in glory. The cross is what glory looks like in a sinful world.

The United States Government began the new year by executing three people, one woman and two men, within days of each other. In the prior year, the federal government executed eight people. This federal killing spree was orchestrated by former Attorney General William Barr who, in the Summer of 2019, issued guidelines for the resumption of capital punishment under federal law following a hiatus stemming back to 2003. I understand, of course, that these inmates were tried and found guilty of particularly heinous crimes. I also know that the number of convicted felons killed by the state pales in comparison with the thousands dying each day from starvation, exposure and disease due to poverty, injustice and violence of various kinds. Should we not be focused on these many innocent victims rather than the few who brought the sentence of death upon themselves?

Evidently, Jesus does not buy into that logic. He makes his final stand on death row and dies along with his fellow convicts under the requirements of the law. In so doing, he demonstrates the limitations of law and the frailty of those who administer it. If those who write the laws, those who interpret the laws and those who carry out the requirements of the laws are capable of killing God’s only begotten Son-all perfectly legally-then we have to ask ourselves whether the law can ever be trusted to impose justly a sentence of death.

We know for a fact that the death sentence falls disproportionately upon the poor, people of color and people lacking in education. We also know that shoplifters often end up doing time, whereas investment bankers whose unbridled greed led to the ruination of millions in 2008, government officials whose policies separated migrant children from their families and special operations soldiers who murdered civilians faced no criminal consequences because, as evil and destructive as their acts were, they evidently did not break any laws. The law, being a human creation, is capable only of regulating imperfectly outward conduct of the most extreme type. It is an instrument far too fallible and far too blunt for dissecting each individual case and determining who is particularly deserving of the ultimate penalty.

In the final Christological analysis, we can only conclude that imposition of death as a penalty for any crime constitutes overreaching on our part. Taking up the cross means, perhaps more than anything else, standing between those condemned to death by the state and the machinery of any government that would carry out such sentence. There are many arguments that could be made for opposing the death penalty. But the one simple reason disciples of Jesus must stand with those sentenced to die is that this is where we find Jesus standing.

Here is a poetic account of the plea for remembrance by one of the criminals crucified with Jesus.

“Remember me” implored the Thief!

“Remember me” implored the Thief!
Oh Hospitality!
My Guest “Today in Paradise”
I give thee guaranty.

That Courtesy will fair remain
When the Delight is Dust
With which we cite this mightiest case
Of compensated Trust.

Of all we are allowed to hope
But Affidavit stands
That this was due where most we fear
Be unexpected Friends.

Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition, (c. 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College; edited by Ralph W. Franklin, ed., Cambridge, Mass.) Emily Dickinson (1830-1866) is indisputably one of America’s greatest and most original poets. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, she attended a one-room primary school in that town and went on to Amherst Academy, the school out of which Amherst College grew. In the fall of 1847 Dickinson entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary where students were divided into three categories: those who were “established Christians,” those who “expressed hope,” and those who were “without hope.” Emily, along with thirty other classmates, found herself in the latter category. Though often characterized a “recluse,” Dickinson kept up with numerous correspondents, family members and teachers throughout her lifetime. You can find out more about Emily Dickinson and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Wilderness, Angels, Beasts and Temptation


Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

Prayer of the Day: Holy God, heavenly Father, in the waters of the flood you saved the chosen, and in the wilderness of temptation you protected your Son from sin. Renew us in the gift of baptism. May your holy angels be with us, that the wicked foe may have no power over us, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Mark 1:12-13.

There isn’t as much wilderness as there used to be and there is getting to be less each day.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the annual rate of deforestation is about 1.3 million square km per decade. While the greatest threat today is posed to the world’s rain forests, temperate forests are at risk as well. It was only through the farsighted creation of the National Park system that some vast regions of wilderness remain in our own country today. How long they will remain depends on how firmly our elected leaders are prepared to stand against corporate interests chomping at the bit to move in and exploit them for oil, timber and private development. For the sake of my grandchildren, I hope they stand firm. It breaks my heart to think of them having no forests in which to take their children hiking, no wild animals outside of those bread in captivity and living in cages and only videoclips to show their children what the wilderness once looked like.

I am privileged to live next to a relatively large stretch of forest constituting the National Seashore. The forests of the Outer Cape, as well as the ocean beaches that line it, were saved from commercial development by the efforts of former President John F. Kennedy. On my regular forays into these woods, I have never encountered the devil. Nor have I been much in the company of wild beasts. Our forest residents include all of the usual suspects found as often in suburbia as in these parts-foxes, coyotes, racoons, deer and wild turkeys. There is only one creature in our woods that strikes terror into my heart, and that is the deer tick-blood sucking bearer of lime disease.

I have, however, encountered angels on my walks-if we use that term in its broadest biblical sense to include wind, rain, lightning, sunshine, frost, snow and other energetic forces pulsing through the arteries of the wilderness. Psalm 104:4.[1] In a way, they do minister to me. The sun bakes the back of my neck red; the wind from the ocean sand blasts my face and the rain soaks me to the skin notwithstanding the best rain gear to be had. All of this reminds me of my own fragility. These “angels” convince me, if I need convincing, that I would not fare well on my own for forty days in the forests of the National Seashore-to say nothing of the Rockies or the Amazon Rainforest. These angels of the wilderness remind me that I am, after all, a human creature. I am dependent on a network of family, social and commercial relationships for my wellbeing. As much as being in the wilderness invigorates me, I know I am out of my element. I need human community to thrive and a spell in the wilderness sharpens my gratitude for such community.

The wilderness has a way of putting you in your place. It is hard to take yourself seriously among trees that tower over you. It is nearly impossible to entertain delusions of grandeur standing in front of the ocean. The land, sea and sky have been around long before any human foot made an impression on the soil and they will be here when the last human artifact is worn down to dust. They take little notice of wars, acts of congress or any of the other historic events that excite us. After all, human history is but a second in terms of geological time. Moreover, geological time is but a nanosecond in light of eternity.

“Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You change them like clothing, and they pass away.” Psalm 102:25-26.

Mark’s gospel does not tell us what temptations the devil placed before Jesus while he was in the wilderness. It is tempting simply to import into the gospel lesson what we read in Matthew and Luke. But the first Sunday in Lent is hardly the time to be giving in to temptations-not even literary ones! I believe Mark would have us ponder Jesus’ lengthy sojourn in the wilderness and employ our imaginations here. I think that perhaps Jesus’ greatest temptation was simply to cut short the forty days. After all, Mark’s gospel has Jesus moving throughout his ministry at a breakneck pace. The word “immediately” appears in nearly every other sentence. We read that Jesus and his disciples were so feverously busy with their ministry that they had no time even to eat.

That is not unlike more than a few days of my own life in the parish. Always in the background of my morning prayers were nagging concerns over the phone calls I needed to return before eleven o’clock so that I could make it to the hospital for my visits before lunch was served. In much the same way, I knew I needed time for prayer and meditation during the years I practiced law. But what time alone I had was too often spent working and reworking in my head the argument I would need to make in an upcoming motion hearing. As one dear old colleague, a priest in one of the neighboring Roman Catholic churches put it, “I find myself so consumed dealing with the urgent that I never get around to doing the significant.” The wilderness has a way of helping you separate the two and prioritize them-if you have the patience to remain there long enough. Maybe Jesus was longing to be done with his forty days in the wilderness and to get on with his work. I can very well imagine the devil whispering in his ear, “You don’t have time for this! There’s important work to be done and you are already behind.”

Or perhaps the temptation consisted of precisely the opposite. Not everybody is as inept at survival as I am. There are plenty of folks who are quite at home in the wilderness. Such people have learned the skills of outdoor living. They find the solitude of life in the wilderness comforting. To whatever extent Jesus was aware of the challenges awaiting him in a world hostile to the reign of God he was called to proclaim, I suspect he might have considered the prospect of remaining in the wilderness an attractive alternative. The wild beasts might not be particularly good conversation partners, but they seem to have treated Jesus with greater kindness than his human opponents and, at times, even his disciples. Perhaps Jesus looked toward the end of his wilderness wandering with dread rather than relief.

Whatever shape temptation takes, it always lures one into the path of least resistance. Sometimes it comes in the form of pandemic fatigue, the desperate desire to “get back to normal.” We are all tired of masks, social distancing, putting off traveling and delaying our visits to loved ones. That desire can lead us to lapses in judgment, to letting our guard down and becoming reckless. Temptation comes in the form of denial. The events of this last year have brought into sharp focus the realities of systemic racism in law enforcement, education and the workplace. They have also taught us that there is an ugly, hostile, selfish and hateful side of America. We always knew it was there, but we took comfort in the belief that it represented only a small minority. When the Klan or the Aryan Nations committed acts of terror, we pretended to be shocked and declared, “This is not what America is about. This is not who we are.” Now we know that, yes, it is very much a part of who we are and what we are about.

It is tempting to deny the realities of the pandemic; to forget what we now know; to throw caution to the wind and listen again to comforting lies that make us deaf to the calls for justice that have been echoing throughout our land for the last four centuries. It is tempting to reassure ourselves that the way things are really isn’t so bad; that we are not really in such a bad place; that we should consider just staying put with the status quo. We would prefer to get out of the wilderness as soon as possible or, failing that, hunker down and make a patch of it as much like home as possible. A long, slow journey through the thick of it, a journey that requires a searching moral inventory, a journey that challenges our priorities, a journey that takes us where we need to go instead of where we want to go-none of that is very appealing. But as we of all people should know, there is no reaching the promised land without going through the wilderness.

The season of Lent, which begins Wednesday, is a call to the wilderness. It is a call to engage the demonic voices that would discourage us from discerning and doing the hard work of repentance. It is a sojourn among wild beasts as well as ministering angels. It is a time to remember that we are indeed dust and destined to return to dust. Yet it is also a time to recall that the God who speaks to us this terrible word is the same One who at the dawn of time breathed the Spirit of life into dust and promises to do so again.

Here is a poem by Reg Saner about the transformative voice of the wilderness.

What the Wilderness Tells You

No one goes back to before. By skies
fresh and ancient as the next raindrop

you were assembled, then from fog
frozen to pines, taught yourself wonder,

and from a single stalk of meadow rue
the vegetable kingdom. Off high rock

the rivers crashed and came running.
A raven matched its wingspan and glide

To the curve of a canyon. By reflection
Slow as your life gathering bits of the past

Your eyes gave birth to nature-
Whose stone, in a few tricky chemicals

Transacting your mind, now thinks you;
Without intent or consequences, so it says,

Having taken your skin for excitement,
Your bloodstream for love, your skull

For its sorrows and lightest of worlds,
Where wind among the forested mountains

Disowning all voice in the matter
Has taken your lips for its wisdom.

Source: Poetry (August 1992). Reg Saner (b.1931) is an American poet. He graduated from St. Norbert College and served as an infantry platoon leader in the Korean War. Following his discharge, he studied at the University of Illinois and received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Florence. From 1962 to 1998, he taught at the University of Colorado. He currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

[1] The Hebrew word is “Melek,” meaning literally “messenger” or “emissary.”

When Easter Comes Before Lent


2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, the resplendent light of your truth shines from the mountaintop into our hearts. Transfigure us by your beloved Son, and illumine the world with your image, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’” Mark 9:7.

The interesting thing about Mark’s gospel is that it doesn’t end in an encounter with the resurrected Christ. If the scholarly consensus of New Testament scholars holding that the gospel ends at Mark 16:8 is correct, and I believe it is, then the story concludes with an empty tomb and two terrified women running away, far too frightened to say anything to anyone. So the closest thing we have to a resurrection story in Mark is today’s gospel account of Jesus transfigured on the mountain top, a resurrection that occurs not at the end but smack dab in the middle of Jesus’ ministry of preaching, healing and casting out demons.

This is also the second time in Mark’s gospel we hear the voice of God speaking from heaven. The first was at Jesus’ baptism where the divine voice declared to Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11. Now we hear that same voice addressing the disciples with the same declaration and demanding, urging, pleading, with them to listen to that Son.

I don’t know what Peter had in mind when he offered to build three booths, one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus. Commentators put forth a number of theories, but quite possibly Peter had nothing in mind. The gospel tells us “he didn’t know what to say” which suggests to me that his mind was probably empty of everything except blind terror. Yet Peter, being Peter, feels compelled to speak anyway. Mark 9:6. Maybe Peter thought he was honoring Jesus by putting him on the same level as Moses and Elijah, by building him a shrine just like theirs. If that was case, the voice from the cloud is sure to set Peter straight. Jesus gains nothing from his association with these two great luminaries. It is quite the other way around. “‘This Jesus is my beloved son. Listen to him.” And after that, as the disciples looked around, they saw no one, not Elijah, not Moses, but Jesus only. If there is one sentence that summarizes the gist of today’s gospel it is this: “Listen to Jesus.”

Coming as it does at what I believe to be the climax of Mark’s gospel, this three word imperative deserves our full attention. Jesus’s voice is not the only one speaking. I am sure Moses and Elijah had plenty to say as well. As the greatest of teachers and the greatest of the prophets respectively, Moses and Elijah represent the sum total of the Hebrew scriptural witness. As such, they should not be ignored. Nevertheless, the one voice that, for Christians anyway, is ultimately authoritative is that of Jesus. Jesus tells us that everything in the law and the prophets hangs on loving God with all our being and our neighbors as ourselves. Mark 12:28-31. There is no commandment greater than these which are in fact one in the same. For there is no way to love God other than  by loving one’s neighbor. We must not follow any voice telling us to do otherwise, even if it comes from the Bible.

God knows there has been and still is a lot of Christianity around that is mighty short on Jesus and long on-well you name it. There was no shortage of crosses worn and carried by members of that mob that stormed the Capital Building on January 6th. There is a lot of nail biting, hand wringing and consternation these days about declines in church membership and financial support for the mainline denominations as well as some frantic discussions among us about how to turn that around, many of which, sad to say, have little to do with Jesus or the reign of God he proclaims. Just prior to my retirement from full time parish ministry, I attended the presentation of a program designed to spark congregational renewal. Aside from the opening devotion that included a reading from one of the gospels, the name of Jesus never came up during a nearly two hour session of PowerPoint, group exercises and lectures. It made me wonder whether the church is worth renewing. If the world sees nothing of Jesus in us, why is it so all fired important that we last into the next century?

In view of all this, I have to say that I found refreshing the words of Episcopalian Bishop Michael Curry spoken in a recent webinar to the effect that Christianity needs to recenter itself on the teachings, example and Spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. Curry is calling for a positive witness testifying to God’s priorities for humanity as revealed in Jesus Christ. “We need a standard,” he says, “of what Christianity looks like and it’s Jesus of Nazareth.”  I would only add that, if we are going be a living witness to Jesus, if we hope to be a church in which Jesus is recognized, then we need to start listening to him.

Perhaps that is a good segway into the season of Lent. What is the point of fasting, prayer, retreat and the other Lenten disciplines if not to hear with greater clarity the voice of Jesus over the din of all the other noise generated by an endless news cycle? What better opportunity to reflect upon where Jesus might be calling us? What better time than now to consider the shape love must take for our neighbors in a bitterly polarized cultural climate poisoned with racism, threatened with sickness and overshadowed by the specter of violence? And what better light to help us find our way through the darkness of these days than the light of Jesus’ resurrection, a generous glimpse of which Mark’s gospel has given us?

I don’t know about you, but this year I prefer receiving my resurrection now rather than later. A resurrection that takes place only in the distant future is of no use to me just now. I need the light of the resurrection now as I muddle through the grief and confusion that comes with losing so many of my family members and friends. I need the light of the resurrection now to help me navigate the ever changing terrain of a world turned upside down with pandemic, racial violence and a troubling global rise in nationalism. I need the light of the resurrection now to help me see and visualize hope when the daily news gives me so much reason for despair. I need for Jesus to shine into the dark corners of my day to day existence, into my marriage, into my family, into my work and ministry. And thanks be to God, that is what Jesus offers us.

Here is a hymn/poem by Ludämilia Elisabeth that captures what I believe is the thrust of Sunday’s gospel from Mark and, indeed, the thrust of Mark’s entire gospel.

Jesus, Jesus, Only Jesus

1 Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus
Can my heartfelt longing still.
Lo, I pledge myself to Jesus,
What He wills alone to will,
For my heart, which He hath filled,
Ever cries, “Lord, as Thou wilt.”

2 One there is for whom I’m living,
Whom I love most tenderly;
Unto Jesus I am giving
What in love He gave to me.
Jesus’ blood hides all my guilt–
Lord, O lead me as Thou wilt.

3 What to me may seem a treasure,
But displeasing is to Thee–
O remove such harmful pleasure;
Give instead what profits me.
Let my heart by Thee be stilled;
Make me Thine, Lord, as Thou wilt.

4 Let me earnestly endeavor
Thy good pleasure to fulfil;
In me, through me, with me, ever,
Lord, accomplish Thou Thy will.
In Thy holy image built,
Let me die, Lord, as Thou wilt.

5 Jesus, constant be my praises,
For Thou unto me didst bring
Thine own self and all Thy graces
That I joyfully may sing:
Be it unto me, my Shield,
As Thou wilt, Lord, as Thou wilt.

Source: The Lutheran Hymnal, (c. 1941 by Concordia Publishing House) # 348.  Ludämilia Elisabeth (1640-1672) was the second daughter of Count Ludwig Gunther I of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. She was born at the castle of Heidecksburg, near Rudolstadt and was educated there. In 1665 she went with her mother to the dowager castle of Friedensburg near Leutenberg, but after her mother’s death she returned to Rudolstadt. On Dec. 20, 1671 Ludämilia was formally betrothed to Count Christian Wilhelm of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. Shortly thereafter her eldest sister Sophie Juliane contracted measles from which she died. While caring for her, Ludämilia caught the infection and died on March 12, 1672. Ludämilia was raised and thoroughly educated in a devout Christian family. She was a good Latin scholar and well read in theology and other branches of learning. She authored many poems showing her to have been a deeply faithful disciple with an intense love for Jesus. Her poems were written as personal prayers for her own edification rather than for public worship. Nonetheless, they were subsequently put to music and so used. The above hymn is taken from the hymnal in use by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod when I was a child. Unfortunately, it did not make the cut for subsequent worship books.

Former President and Others Implicated in 1/6/21 Insurection Run for Legal Cover as Impeachment Trial Approaches

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

Since the failed insurrection of January 6, 2021, former president Donald J. Trump and everyone implicated in lawsuits arising from that event are running for legal cover.

Donald Trump is expected to deny all responsibility for the insurrection. “I never dreamed that crowd would become violent,” he told our reporters. “When I told them to march to the capital and fight, when Rudy called for trial by combat, I just expected they would peacefully link arms in front of the Capital building, light candles and sing ‘We Shall Overcome,'” Mr. Trump said. “How could I have known they would trash the place?”

The former president is expected to receive support from at least two prominent senators in his trial before the United States Senate. Senator Ted Cruz told Ghost reporters, “I stood by my president when he called my dad an assassin and said my wife was ugly. You think I’m going to desert him over a lousy little coup attempt?” So, too, Senator Josh Hawley declared, “Look, seventy million people believed Donald Trump when he told them the election was stolen. I don’t know about you, but where I come from, when somebody steals something from you, you go and take it back.” The former president’s legal team is confident Mr. Trump will be acquitted in his trial before the Senate. “It’s not like we have to persuade twelve impartial jurors of ordinary intelligence,” said Trump attorney, David Schoen. “We only need to give a little bit of political cover to fifty Republican senators.”

A number of persons arrested in connection with the storming of the Capital intend to argue that they were authorized by the former president to take over the Capital and lynch former Vice President Mike Pence. “We intend to argue that our clients were only following the orders of their president,” said Albert Watkins, attorney for Jacob Chansley, the infamous “QAnon Shaman. “I know that defense didn’t work so well at Nuremburg,” he added. “But it’s not like these people are Nazis. Well OK. They kind of are Nazis-but in a nice way.”

Fox News, which is facing lawsuits for falsely promoting baseless assertions of widespread election fraud, is denying liability. Said Fox’s CEO Suzanne Scott, “Hey, we fired Lou Dobbs as soon as we found out that the ‘stolen election’ narrative was a lie-well, shortly after we found out. Anyway, we fired him as soon as we got sued!”

Former New York Mayor and sometime attorney for former President Trump, Rudy Giuliani, who is facing a multi-million dollar defamation suit, likewise denied any wrongdoing. “I never claimed that Dominion voting machines were manufactured and designed by a dead guy in the jungle to flip the election for Joe Biden!” he said. “That was totally Sidney Powell.” Further distancing himself from Powell, Giuliani went on to say, “I never bought into her ridiculous and far fetched nonsense. I have maintained all along that Joe Biden’s election victory was engineered by corrupt election officials using electronic impulses generated over the internet to jolt dead people back to life and steer them into polling stations. And I’ve got documented proof of that!”

Sidney Powell claims that there is no evidence of defamatory statements on her part and adamantly maintains that her lawsuits on the former president’s behalf challenging the 2020 election were meritorious. “Just because sixty judges threw president Trump’s election lawsuits out of court doesn’t mean they are baseless,” Ms. Powell told our reporters. “I know there has got to be a judge out there that will see things our way.” She went on to explain that “there are thousands of judges in this country, but if you quit after going to only sixty, you haven’t even scratched the surface.” She went on to say that, “if we’d been given enough time to keep on suing, I know we’d have scored.”

Stay tuned with the Ghost to stay on top of further developments.


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

Healing-What and to What End?


Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

Prayer of the Day: Everlasting God, you give strength to the weak and power to the faint. Make us agents of your healing and wholeness, that your good news may be made known to the ends of your creation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” Mark 1:30-31.

Healing was a big part of Jesus’ ministry. It has also been very much a part of the church’s mission. The “hospital” originated as a distinctively Christian institution. Religious orders began opening the doors of their monestaries to shelter abandoned children, those rendered homeless by fires, floods and earthquakes as well as persons too ill to care for themselves. Healing has also played a central role in our worship practices. For many Pentecostal churches, “faith healing” is a central aspect of ministry. Among us mainline believers, prayers and services for healing are a regular part of our worship culture. But what are these practices intended to accomplish? What do we mean when we pray for healing? How do we deal with the fact that, in spite of fervent prayer, many people are not healed of their illnesses and injuries?

While I don’t pretend to have pat answers to these questions, I think there are some biblical perspectives that can help us frame them more constructively. The first thing to keep in mind is that mortality is not a sickness to be healed. We are creatures living within finite limits. Our bodies were not designed to last forever. Thus, “healing,” whether by natural or miraculous means, is at best a temporary reprieve. Everyone Jesus healed from disease eventually died of some other cause. Even Jesus himself finally died. Mortality is part and parcel of humanity.

Too often, I think, Christians view healing as a weapon to be wielded against our mortality. In his recent book Todd Billings, Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, notes that a major study by the Dana-Farber Cancer institute found Christians to be three times as likely as other terminally ill patients to opt for extreme measures to prolong their lives. The End of the Christian Life (c. 2020 by Billings, J. Todd, pub. by Brazos Press). We seem to have adopted the notion that life is finally a struggle to survive at all costs and that we are under some moral obligation to stave off death until the last possible moment. Language we use to describe struggles of the terminally ill is replete with military imagery. “She’s a fighter,” we say of someone hanging between life and death in the ICU. When a person finally succumbs to terminal illness, we say something to the effect that “he lost his battle with cancer.” However ill a person might be, however much pain they may be in or however hopeless their prognosis, we expect them to go down fighting. To admit our human limits, accept and submit to them is a sign of weakness amounting to the ultimate sin of “giving up.”

At some point, prayers and hopes for healing become desperate and defiant acts of rebellion against God’s solemn declaration: ‘Turn back, you mortals.’ Psalm 90:3. At some point, the desire for healing must give way to a search for reconciliation, forgiveness and peace with God in the limited time one has left. At some point, fighting must give way to peaceful acceptance, gratitude for all that has been and openness to that “one more surprise” God has in store for us. “Borning Cry,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship # 732. Often I have found that well meaning relatives and friends of dying persons rob their loved ones of the opportunity to find such closure by encouraging them “not to give up hope,” to “hang on,” and to “keep fighting” even after it is clear that further fighting is futile.

It was not always so. During medieval times, death was at the very center of life. According to church teaching, the whole purpose of life was to prepare for death. Participation in worship and the sacraments was understood as a process of formation, readying one for a “good death.” Time was measured in saint’s days marking the death of biblical and post biblical heroes of faith. The landscape was dominated by parish churches and towering cathedrals which were the sites of local graveyards. The faithful were challenged to so live that in death their hope and confidence in the resurrection and eternal life might glorify God. Death was surrounded by familiar communal rituals and symbols of comfort and hope. It was sad, to be sure, but not so terrifying that it needed to be shielded from view, banned from polite conversation and hidden away in the sterile halls of haspice wards. Our present day fixation on pushing death as far from our consciousness as possible ends up robbing us of much joy, comfort and hope that comes with recognizing and accepting it for what it is: the end of a mysterious and wonderful gift that we have been given, namely, life. Part of what makes life precious is the knowledge that it is finite. Much of what makes life meaningful is the recognition that it is brief and what we choose to do with each minute of it matters.

That brings me to my second point: Healing is not an end in itself. For all the healing that goes on in this Sunday’s gospel reading, healing isn’t really the final point. Note well that, after Simon Peter’s mother in law was healed by Jesus, she got right to work in serving dinner. Putting aside the cultural and sexual stereotypes we might read into this text (or which might in fact be in the text) something important is being said. Our lives are not our own and whether God extends them through the gift of healing or, for that matter, simply by granting us the gift of waking up to another day, we are to understand that this gift is not simply a return to or extension of the status quo. A prayer for healing begs the question, “to what end?” So that we can pick up where we left off and get on with our lives? Perhaps we should begin by asking whether our lives are worth preserving and what we intend to do with renewed health or an extension of life.

A prayer for healing should recognize in illness or injury, not merely an inconvenient disruption, but an opportunity for change of direction, revision of priorities and new understandings of what it means to live well.[1] In biblical terms, healing is never simply a return to baseline. We learn from the Psalms that it involves a reorientation of one’s whole existence. Life will never be the same again. One who has experienced God’s healing touch carries the scars of their illness-memorials to God’s gracious gift and reminders of their vulnerability and continued dependence. True healing touches every inch of one’s being and always evokes praise, thankfulness and generosity.

Here is a poem by Karenne Wood speaking to the depth of the healing process and its transformative potential.

The Lilies

When I learned I might have cancer,
I bought fifteen white lilies. Easter was gone:
the trumpets were wilted, plants crooked with roots
bound in pots. I dug them into the garden,
knowing they would not bloom for another year.
All summer, the stalks stood like ramshackle posts
while I waited for results. By autumn, the stalks
had flopped down. More biopsies, laser incisions,
the cancer in my tongue a sprawling mass. Outside,
the earth remained bare, rhizomes shrunken
below the frost line. Spring shoots appeared
in bright green skins, and lilies bloomed
in July, their waxed trumpets pure white,
dusting gold pollen to the ground.
                                                                     This year,
tripled in number, they are popping up again. I wait,
a ceremony, for the lilies to open, for the serpentine length
of the garden to bloom in the shape of my tongue’s scar,
a white path with one end leading into brilliant air,
the other down the throat’s canyon, black
and unforgiving. I try to imagine
what could grow in such darkness. I am waiting

for the lilies to open.

Source: Markings on Earth, (c. 2001 by Karenne Wood; pub. by University of Arizona Press). Karenne Wood (1960-2019) was a poet and archivist for Native American tribal history. She was a member of the Monacan Indian tribe. Wood served as the director of the Virginia Indian Programs at Virginia Humanities in Charlottesville, Virginia. In addition to heading up a tribal history project for the Monacan Nation, she conducted research at the National Museum of the American Indian and served on the National Congress of American Indians’ Repatriation Commission. She was named one of the Library of Virginia’s “Virginia Women in History” in 2015. You can find out more about Karenne Wood and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

[1] I want to steer clear of the notion that God sends illness as a punishment for sin or in order to teach us a lesson or to cultivate some virtue in us. While the Bible does speak in this way and the psalmists frequently link their suffering to God’s action or lack of it, I don’t think it is possible to make such a determination for anyone else in any particular case. Causation for illness is complex. To some extent, it is genetically predisposed. Environmental factors over which individuals have little control also contribute to disease. Sometimes illness is triggered by unhealthy lifestyles such as substance abuse, an overactive work ethic or simple carelessness. Frequently it is simply a matter of dumb luck. I suspect that much of the time our illnesses arise from a combination of these factors.  Nevertheless, I believe we can also say that in the occurrence of illness (as in all other occurrences), there is a “God factor” at work. As one of my professors once remarked, to say that God is omnipotent is not to say that God’s power determines the outcome in each transaction, but that God is a redemptive force to be reckoned with in all transactions. Part of the work of prayer for the sick, then, is discerning the way in which God is making Godself redemptively present and active.