All posts by revolsen

About revolsen

I am a retired Lutheran Pastor currently residing in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. I am married .and have three grown children.

President Trump Cancels 2020 Election

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

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Today President Donald Trump signed an executive order cancelling the 2020 election. “The president feels this is the best way to prevent foreign powers from interfering in our elections,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “No election, no interference.” Democratic leaders expressed outrage at this latest of Trump’s moves. “This is a bald face affront to the United States Constitution,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “It’s lawless and intolerable!”

Representative David Nunes scoffed at the Speaker’s remarks. “There they go again. Unconstitutional this and unconstitutional that! All this proves is that the Democrats are singularly focused on taking down the president.” He went on to say, “They [Democrats] complained because they were afraid the Russians were interfering in our elections. They cried when Donald Trump identified the real source of interference in Ukraine and tried to put a stop to it. Now they whine because the president finally fixed the problem once and for all. Nothing this president does will ever make the Democrat Party happy.” Representative Kevin McCarthy also criticized the Speaker, saying “They are still just sore because they lost in 2016. They should thank us for sparing them the embarrassment of losing again in 2020!” Representative Jim Jordan agreed, telling reporters “first they used an impeachment proceeding to remove the president. But now it looks like that isn’t working for them, so they are trying to use an election to take him down.”

Democrats announced that they will be seeking a ruling from the courts on the President’s executive order. “Let ‘em,” said Attorney General William Barr in response to inquiries to his office. “We will drag this through the courts and by the time it gets to the Supremes, the old lady will be retired and we’ll have another of our own boys on the bench. Once that happens, the constitution means whatever we say it means.” Speaking to reporters later this afternoon, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvani similarly shrugged off the Democratic claim of constitutional illegality. “Presidents violate the constitution. Get over it,” he said.

Phone calls made to the Democratic National Committee concerning the fate of the upcoming primary debate remain unanswered to date. However, an anonymous source within the organization told us that, as far as she knows, the debate will be held as scheduled. “I suppose that, given the president’s order, the candidates won’t have much to talk about,” she said. “But then again, what else is new?”

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

Signs-Nourishment for Ailing Souls

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THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Isaiah 35:1-10
Luke 1:46b-55
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Prayer of the Day: Stir up the wills of all who look to you, Lord God, and strengthen our faith in your coming, that, transformed by grace, we may walk in your way; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

John the Baptizer is in a bad place. Sitting in Herod’s dungeon with no prospect for release and, as we know, soon to lose his head, things are looking pretty dark. The coming of God’s servant to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire failed to materialize as John had announced. The mountains of oppression remain as high as ever and the valleys of suffering too deep to plumb. John must be wondering whether the prophetic word he received and preached was not, after all, a delusion. Perhaps he had been mistaken about Jesus, whose ministry thus far has failed to dislodge corruption, oppression and violence in order to make way for God’s coming reign. Maybe he had been wrong about everything. Perhaps the way things are is the way they always will be and, in the words of a presidential chief of staff, we just have to “get over it.” Out of this dark place comes the question posed to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Matthew 11:3.

Jesus does not answer John’s question. He gives John something better than an answer. He gives John a sign. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Matthew 11:4-5. These tidings didn’t break down the doors of Herod’s prison or put even a dent in the tyranny of Rome. But perhaps they were just enough good news to crack open the darkness of John’s despairing mood and ignite in his soul a tentative hope. Often, a sign is just enough to make all the difference.

Our psalmody is Mary’s jubilant song celebrating God’s victory over violence, tyranny and injustice. Note well that Mary is in a particularly vulnerable spot just now. Her people are living under military occupation. She finds herself pregnant and unmarried in a highly patriarchal culture. Mary’s circumstances provide a striking contrast to her bold declaration that the promised reign of God has broken in to set right the inequities and injustice under which she is living. Yet if we go back a few verses, I believe we will discover the “sign” that set in motion this lyrical hymn of victory.

We read that Mary, upon learning of her pregnancy, goes to visit Elizabeth who is herself pregnant with none other than John the Baptizer. No sooner does Mary arrive at Elizabeth’s doorstep than the baby in Elizabeth’s womb turns, evoking her well known declaration: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb lept for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”  Luke 1:42-45. Just as Jesus’ message brought light and hope to John in Herod’s dungeon, so John’s joyful in utero dance brought inspiration to the mother of our Lord for what we know as her Magnificat.

I have never been in circumstances as dire as those of John and Mary. But I’ve had days when it seemed like the church I was serving was coming apart at the seams; days when it seems like nobody in the church had the faintest idea what we are doing or why; days when petty personal disputes and inconsequential controversies sucked all the oxygen out of the congregation; and days when it seemed as though nothing I did made a damn bit of difference. It was on one of those days that I was passing through the hall of the nursery-kindergarten school my church operates. I heard the sound of several little voices singing a song entitled “Seek ye First the Kingdom of God,” a song I had taught the children in chapel just a few weeks ago. The singing swelled as the pre-kindergarten class came down the stairs. The teacher smiled at me and shrugged. “They just started singing. I have no idea how it got started.” All I could manage to say is, “Thanks everybody. You have no idea how much I needed that!”

Signs are not capable of creating or sustaining faith. Many people ended up rejecting Jesus in spite of having witnessed the signs he performed. Furthermore, Jesus makes clear on more than one occasion that signs are not an entitlement. e.g., Mark 8:11-12. We have no right to demand divine confirmation ensuring that we are on the right track every step of the way. Yet we can pray for eyes to see signs and ears to hear them when they do come our way.

God in God’s mercy often sends signs just when they are most needed. There is a remarkable episode from the The Two Towers, the second volume in J.R. Tolken’s Lord of the Rings, illustrating the point. Protagonist Frodo and his servant, Sam, have embarked upon an impossible mission in the dark land of Mordor. Against all odds, they must transverse a ruined landscape occupied by fierce enemies to destroy a ring whose powers threaten the very fabric of their world. Wearied and nearly broken by their journey, the two come upon the ruined statue of a once great king that has been broken and defiled by enemy forces. It looks at first blush like one more illustration of the enemy’s triumph. But then-a sign.

“Suddenly, caught by the level beams, Frodo saw the old king’s head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. ‘Look, Sam!’ he cried, startled into speech. ‘Look! The king has got a crown again!’ The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed. ‘They cannot conquer forever!’ said Frodo. And then suddenly the brief glimpse was gone. The Sun dipped and vanished, and as if at the shuttering of a lamp, black night fell.” Tolken, J.R.R., The Two Towers, (HarperCollins e-books) p. 919.

The gospel does not tell us how John the Baptizer responded to Jesus’ message about his healing the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf and his raising the dead and preaching good news for the poor. But I would like to think that it brought a smile to John and caused him to remark to himself, “they can’t conquer forever!”

Here is a poem by Alan Brilliant illustrating the promise of signs and the loss incurred by ignoring them.

Searching for Signs

I am searching now for signs and wonders
Which, when younger, I might have had
For nothing, nothing at all, but which,
When older, I threw, despised, in the street-
Things of little value, spurned by the stupid.
What were these things? The works that
Embody and in their time transform
All poets destined for great singing
When, in their maturity, the pluck up the pearl
Lodged and nourished in the treasure of the heart.
But, for me, cursed with sloth
There will be no art
No enameled bird, no cup, no forge.
When, in my youth, I heard the clamor
Of the mob and was afraid, I turned and ran
And since that time am unmanned.
Oh, I did not betray a gift, an artifact
But only what was me and mine.
Instead of winding the golden thread
Up in a ball and following
Until the tall trees and blood-red fruit
Screamed Paradise I examined and searched
Pretending I needed more: “I need more time,”
I said. And, stooping, bowed the head
To look in mud and in that mod
Lies the pearl but it is long gone.

Source: Poetry, (1969). Alan Brilliant (b. 1936) is the founder of Unicorn Press in Santa Barbara, California for which he served as Director. He was married to Teo Savory, who both wrote for and assisted in the editing operations of Unicorn. Brilliant was a good friend and collaborator with Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and author of the spiritual autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain and the well known New Seeds of Contemplation.

A Letter from “America’s Mayor”

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

See the source imageKierkegaard’s Ghost is proud to publish this editorial by our distinguished guest contributor, Rudy Giuliani, America’s Mayor and attorney for president Donald J. Trump.

Dear United States of America,

Let me dispense with the pleasantries and get right to the point. Donald Trump is your president today and will be after November 2020. Get used to it.

Please don’t bore me with your recitations of all of Donald Trump’s moral deficiencies, corruption and incompetence. I know all about that and so does his base. We don’t care. Let me be blunt: Donald Trump’s base is dumb as a bag of hammers. You heard Donald himself say his supporters were so hopelessly stupid that he could commit a murder in public and they would still love him. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together would have known then and there that they had just been insulted. Not these ever Trumpers! Donald Trump could torture a puppy to death in the Oval Office on national television and they would still adore him. So Trump’s critics can shout facts at his base all they want. He’ll just tell his followers that its fake news cooked up by the press and the deep state. They, for their part, will swallow it hook, line and sinker, turn around and dismiss the facts as lies. They believe what they want to believe which is always what Donald Trump tells them.

And here’s the thing. As goes the base, so goes the party. It’s no secret that even moral ciphers like Mitch McConnell are somewhat concerned about the outrages of our president. But they will back him no matter what comes out of the impeachment hearings. They will do that because the Trump base is the soul of their party. There is nothing left of the Republican party beyond adoration of Donald Trump and they know it. Crossing Trump is political suicide. Ask Jeff Flake. That’s why Mitch follows Donald into the rose garden nuzzling his pant legs like a stray cat looking for dinner. That’s why Trump can call Ted Cruz’s wife ugly and his father a murderer, yet still Ted comes whimpering to lick the boots of his president and plead for an endorsement. As the Good Book tells us, the sheep know the vice of their shepherd.

“The truth will prevail,” you say. Let’s have a little talk about truth, shall we? I have to confess that I love watching politicians and the press go into conniptions whenever Donald Trump says something that is obviously inaccurate. “How does he keep getting away with it?” they ask with exasperation that amuses me to no end. They just can’t get it into their elite brains that facts don’t matter. Truth is conveyed, not by facts, but by pictures. Pictures deeply ingrained in the hearts and minds of white Americans-and not just those within Trump’s base. Frightening, disturbing pictures. Pictures of taxes eating away at their hard earned savings to feed social programs for people too lazy to work. Pictures of lily white daughters seduced by the sons of black Americans, dark skinned immigrants and foreigners with unchristian faiths-or no faith at all. Pictures of a nation where faith, family, patriotism and the flag no longer matter. Call Donald Trump ignorant, incompetent and inarticulate. But he knows instinctively how to summon up these pictures and employ them to convince white Americans that the America they know and love is being taken away from them-and only he can take it back. You can make all the fact based rational arguments you want to the contrary, but it’s the pictures white Americans will take with them into the voting booth. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

And one more thing. After 2020, it’s no holds barred. The press, the instigators of impeachment and disloyal members of this administration will-let’s just say “go through some things.” “What about the rule of law?” you ask. “What about the United States Constitution?” Let me tell you something about the almighty Constitution. It’s just a piece of paper. In fact, it’s so frail it can’t survive outside of a helium-filled case in a darkened room at a temperature of 70 degrees and constant humidity of 25 to 30 percent. Expose it to the open air and the light of day and it will fall apart like a cheap shirt. That’s your Constitution. And the rule of law? Law is only a matter of words. Truth, the only truth that matters, is in the pictures: blood, soil, race, nation.

You, America, are not the only people driven by these pictures Donald Trump so skillfully evokes. You saw what happened in Britain with Brexit. You see what is happening in Hungary, Italy, Brazil and Argentina. You see the populist tide rising in Germany, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and other places around the globe. This time there will be no alliance of democratic states to stop it. Trump is the future. Join that future or be crushed under it.

Sweet dreams America,

Your Beloved Mayor,

Rudy Giuliani

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

Imagination-the Eye of Faith


Image result for the peaceable kingdom paintingSECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Prayer of the Day: Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming nurture our growth as people of repentance and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.”  Isaiah 11:9.

In last week’s reading from Isaiah, the prophet assured us that the day will come when the nations of the world forsake war and turn their weapons into farm implements. If you thought that improbable, you must think utterly absurd this week’s oracle about predatory animals becoming vegetarians and living peacefully among those formerly their prey. Isaiah’s vision of such a peaceable world runs contrary to everything we know about the biosphere. Death is an essential feature of ecology. One generation dies to make room for the next. Healthy vegetation lives off the remains of animals and plants that have died and been absorbed into the soil. The population balance between herbivores and the plants they need to live is kept in check by carnivores. Take death out of the ecological equation and the biosphere implodes. A world without death and killing is unimaginable.

But that might well be the point. The problem is not the boldness of Isaiah’s vision, but the poverty of our imagination. The oracle diagnoses an inability on our part to imagine existence without violence and death. It has become axiomatic that death, along with taxes, is inevitable. That being the case, we make room for death in all of our thinking, planning and doing. Death is always the unacknowledged yet ever present elephant in the room guiding our financial planning, directing our politics and shaping the way we think about heath and medicine.

Violence, too, is accepted as part and parcel of what it means to live. Consider how thoroughly the language of warfare and violence has permeated our talk about every facet of life. Political movements are labeled “campaigns” with strategy meetings taking place in “war rooms.” When someone experiences illness, we say they are “battling” the disease and often say with admiration “he’s a fighter.” We “draw lines in the sand” when discussing issues critical to us and vow that we will “go to the trenches” defending our point of view. We speak of all our social problems in terms of warfare. Our government’s legislature has declared war on poverty, drugs, crime, illiteracy and a host of other abstract nouns, thereby illustrating the truth of the now well worn adage: when the only tool in your box is a hammer, all your problems start looking like nails. I sometimes wonder whether it would be possible for us to have a conversation about anything if all these battle metaphors were magically cleansed from our vocabularies. Or would having to choose new metaphors compel us to think differently, creatively and imaginatively about our world?

The prophet’s job is to kick our imagination into gear. That is important because faith is impossible without imagination. There are mysteries that only imagination can grasp. That is why Jesus always spoke of God’s reign in parables. It is why Paul, after speaking at length about the resurrection of the dead, finally dispenses with all analogies and says, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery!” I Corinthians 15:51. It is why John of Patmos resorts to the lurid images of apocalyptic literature to speak of Jesus’ final victory over the powers of death and of the new creation in which “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” Revelation 21:4.

What we confess in our creeds to be true is bigger than what we are able to comprehend or even imagine. Yet if our imaginations can be stimulated to grasp even fragments of these mysteries, it becomes easier to imagine and visualize anew the things we can comprehend. The impossible becomes plausible. It becomes possible to imagine Israelis and Palestinians sharing the land and living side by side in peace; to imagine a world in which no one is food insecure or without access to medical care; to imagine an international forum in which disputes between countries are resolved without resort to warfare. Prophetic imagination is what “prepares the way of the Lord.” Matthew 3:3.

Here is a poem by Phillis Wheatly speaking to the power of imagination.

On Imagination

Thy various works, imperial queen, we see,
How bright their forms! how deck’d with pomp by thee!
Thy wond’rous acts in beauteous order stand,
And all attest how potent is thine hand.

From Helicon’s refulgent heights attend,
Ye sacred choir, and my attempts befriend:
To tell her glories with a faithful tongue,
Ye blooming graces, triumph in my song.

Now here, now there, the roving Fancy flies,
Till some lov’d object strikes her wand’ring eyes,
Whose silken fetters all the senses bind,
And soft captivity involves the mind.

Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.

Though Winter frowns to Fancy’s raptur’d eyes
The fields may flourish, and gay scenes arise;
The frozen deeps may break their iron bands,
And bid their waters murmur o’er the sands.
Fair Flora may resume her fragrant reign,
And with her flow’ry riches deck the plain;
Sylvanus may diffuse his honours round,
And all the forest may with leaves be crown’d:
Show’rs may descend, and dews their gems disclose,
And nectar sparkle on the blooming rose.

Such is thy pow’r, nor are thine orders vain,
O thou the leader of the mental train:
In full perfection all thy works are wrought,
And thine the sceptre o’er the realms of thought.
Before thy throne the subject-passions bow,
Of subject-passions sov’reign ruler thou;
At thy command joy rushes on the heart,
And through the glowing veins the spirits dart.

Fancy might now her silken pinions try
To rise from earth, and sweep th’ expanse on high:
From Tithon’s bed now might Aurora rise,
Her cheeks all glowing with celestial dies,
While a pure stream of light o’erflows the skies.
The monarch of the day I might behold,
And all the mountains tipt with radiant gold,
But I reluctant leave the pleasing views,
Which Fancy dresses to delight the Muse;
Winter austere forbids me to aspire,
And northern tempests damp the rising fire;
They chill the tides of Fancy’s flowing sea,
Cease then, my song, cease the unequal lay.

Source: This poem is in the public domain. Phillis Wheatly (1753 – 1784) was the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry. Born in West Africa, she was sold into slavery at the age of seven and transported to North America. She was purchased by the Wheatly family of Boston, who taught her to read and write and encouraged her to write poetry when they saw her talent. The publication of her book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, brought her fame in England as well as in the American colonies. Her poems won praise from no less than George Washington as well as other prominent colonial figures.  Wheatly was emancipated shortly after the publication of her book. She married in about 1778 and had two children, both of which died in infancy.  Her husband was imprisoned for debt in 1784 at which time Wheatly fell into poverty and died from chronic illness. You can read more about Phillis Wheatly and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Hope-The Dawn before the Darkness

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Prayer of the Day: Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection save us from the threatening dangers of our sins, and enlighten our walk in the way of your salvation, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” Romans 13:11-12.

“Wake up, people.” That cry came from an angry teen at a recent forum on climate change. I think that young man was expressing the frustration so many of his generation feel watching the devastating effects of climate change in so many parts of the world as we “adults” remain in denial. Jesus uses “sleep” as a metaphor for denial in our gospel lesson and he warns his disciples that it is not their friend. Denial takes many forms. We are of, course, familiar with those who, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, insist that climate change is a “hoax.” Similar claims are made by fringe elements about the Holocaust and the Sandy Hook shootings. But denial often takes a more subtle form. Sure, climate change is real, but it’s not an immediate concern. Of course, the murder of six million Jews in Europe happened-but that was in the past. Antisemitism isn’t a real threat anymore. So, too, for decades we white Americans consoled ourselves with the belief that racism belonged solely to America’s past and that the election of Barack Obama was proof. The surge of racial hate and nationalistic fanaticism that brought Donald J. Trump to the White House has, I hope, dispelled that notion and caused us to “wake up” to the corrosive effect of these dangerous ideologies at work in government, the workplace and even in our churches.

In our second lesson, Saint Paul exhorts the church in Rome to “wake up,” but for an entirely different reason. His wake up call is made, not to warn the church of impending danger, but to alert it to the glad news of impending salvation. “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed,” the apostle declares. His call to wakefulness implores his hearers not to become distracted, not to grow weary with waiting and not to forget that, however deep the darkness, they are to live as though the day of resurrection has already arrived. This is not merely another form of denial. The dangers and temptations of the darkness are very real. The world as we know it is falling apart at the seams just now. It may be too late to avoid many of devastating consequences of our ecological irresponsibility. Our nation’s government and the democratic practices and traditions that once sustained it may be damaged beyond repair. The resurgence of overt racism in our country might have made its eradication the work of many generations to come. These are the undeniable realities. But Jesus would remind us that, in addition to being the death rattle of the old creation, these things are also to be understood as the birth pangs of the new. In the midst of what looks for all the world like death, God is at work bringing forth life.

At least for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the church calendar begins during the darkest part of the year. As I look out the window into my back yard, I don’t see a spot of green. Everything looks dead. The weather is dark and rainy. There isn’t much evidence of life. If I had not seen it happen every single year of my life, I would never believe that in five short months the dead underbrush will be producing slivers of green, then multi-colored blossoms and finally lush, emerald hued leaves. If I were a visitor from some other world, I wouldn’t anticipate the population of this acre with butterflies, dragon flies and birds of every color and description. The coming of spring strikes me as natural and expected only because I have seen it repeatedly. Indeed, it would be remarkable were spring not to come.

Advent is all about hope. It is the beginning of a journey through holy narratives that will teach our hearts to expect the remarkable transformation of creation from death into life. This pilgrimage will train our eyes to look for the day when the nations “shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks [and] nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah 2: 4. Understand that by hope I do not mean mere optimism or a dogged determination to “look on the bright side” even when there is no bright side. Hope is grounded in Jesus’ resurrection. Resurrection, of which Jesus is the “first fruits,” is the end of creation. It is the end, not merely in the sense that it ends the reign of death, but in the sense that it reveals the end toward which creation is moving. Jesus’ resurrection is the future pushing into the present, the light by which it is possible to look into the present darkness and find even there the seeds of life that is eternal.

Understood in this way, Jesus’ resurrection renders moot the question of when the end will come. It came on Easter morning when Jesus rose from the tomb. It comes today when the resurrected Christ opens the scriptures to us and sets our hearts on fire. It comes when on playgrounds, in churches, across borders, on the streets and within families the divisive powers of racism, tribalism, nationalism and patriarchy come down in some small way. The end comes when the people of God, chosen out of every tribe, nation and tongue, worship the Lamb as one in the creation made new. That’s not something you want to sleep through!

Here’s a poem by Joanna Klink speaking about the fragility and resilience of hope.

Half Omen Half Hope

When everything finally has been wrecked and further shipwrecked,
When their most ardent dream has been made hollow and unrecognizable,
They will feel inside their limbs the missing shade of blue that lingers
Against hills in the cooler hours before dark, and the moss at the foot of the forest
When green starts to leave it. What they take into their privacy (half of his embrace,
Her violence at play) are shadows of acts which have no farewells in them.
Moons unearth them. And when, in their separate dwellings, their bodies
Feel the next season come, they no longer have anyone to whom
To tell it. Clouds of reverie pass outside the window and a strange emptiness
Peers back in. If they love, it is solely to be adored, it is to scatter and gather
Themselves like hard seeds in a field made fallow by a fire someone years ago set.
In the quiet woods, from the highest trees, there is always something
Weightless falling; and he, who must realize that certain losses are irreparable,
Tells himself at night, before the darkest mirror, that vision keeps him whole.

On the verge of warm and simple sleep they tell themselves certain loves
Are like sheets of dark water, or ice forests, or husks of ships. To stop a thing
Such as this would be to halve a sound that travels out from a silent person’s
Thoughts. The imprint they make on each other’s bodies is worth any pain
They may have caused. Quiet falls around them. And when she reaches
For him the air greens like underwater light and the well-waters drop.
They will see again the shadows of insects.
They will touch the bark and feel each age of the tree fly undisturbed
Into them. If what is no longer present in them cannot be restored,
It can at least be offered. Through long bewildered dusks, stalks grow;
Rains fill and pass out of clouds; animals hover at the edges of fields
With eyes like black pools. For nothing cannot be transformed;
Pleasure and failure feed each other daily. Do not think any breeze,
Any grain of light, shall be withheld. All the stars will sail out for them.

Source: Raptus. (c. 2010 by Joanna Klink, pub. by Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA), LLC.) Joanna Klink (b. 1969) is an American poet. Born in Iowa City, Iowa, she received an M.F.A. in Poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She earned her Ph.D. in Humanities from Johns Hopkins University. Her awards and associations include the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award; the Briggs-Copeland Poet from Harvard University; the Jeannette Haien Ballard Writer’s Award; the Civitella Ranieri; the American Academy of Arts and Letters; the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship; and The Bogliasco Foundation. Klink has published several collections of poetry, including They Are Sleeping; Circadian; Raptus (from which the above poem is taken) and Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy. She is currently a member of the poetry faculty at The University of Montana. You can find out more about Joanna Klink and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Impeachment Hearings to Go Hollywood

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)See the source image

In a rare show of bipartisan cooperation during the otherwise contentious impeachment hearings, House Republicans and Democrats have agreed to substitute professional actors to perform their respective rolls. “We keep getting complaints that the hearings are boring and that they lack pizazz,” Rep. Adam Schiff told reporters earlier today. “We can’t afford to lose viewers of this historic moment to The Price is Right.” Rep. Devin Nunes agreed saying, “Look, if we are going to have a show trial, let’s make it a show worth watching.” Even President Trump is on board with the idea. “My impeachment is going to be big. Like the biggest one yet,” he said today in a tweet. “More watched already than both Nixon and loser Clinton.”

The Ghost has learned from sources who spoke to us on condition of anonymity that some casting decisions have already been made. The role of Rep. Jim Jordan will be played by actor Daniel Craig. “We needed to find someone who looks a little more appealing in shirt sleeves,” said our source. The role of Devin Nunes will be played by House of Cards star Kevin Spacey. Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory will play Rep. Adam Schiff. “We were looking for someone who is intelligent and condescending, yet kind of lovable,” our source told us. “Parsons does that perfectly.” The role of Elise Stefanik will be played by Kim Kardashian. “She’s not an actor, but as the glamour piece, she only has to read her talking points and look pretty.” Howard Shore, producer of the soundtrack for Lord of the Rings, has reportedly been asked to create a soundtrack to supplement the impeachment proceedings.

The president has hinted that he may offer his own testimony in order to boost ratings. “If that actually happens,” our source told us, “we won’t be casting him.” It is apparently felt that the role of Donald Trump is bigger than any one actor can possibly fill. “How can we cast a guy who changes his own narrative every five minutes?” he explained. “And after all,” he went on to say, “There is no need for casting here. Reality TV is the the president’s native environment.”

Although the Ghost has not confirmed whether the same process will apply to the coming trial in the Senate, we have learned that several actors are aggressively pursuing roles in that upcoming production. Indeed, competition has been so intense that some actors have resorted to cosmetic surgery to fit their sought-after parts. It is rumored that several actors are undergoing chin reduction surgery to qualify for the role of Sen. Mitch McConnell and nose enhancement procedures to fit that of Sen. Chuck Schumer. One actor vying for the part of Sen. Susan Collins is actually undergoing removal of her spine.

“We look forward to a first class hearing performance,” said Patrick Boland, press secretary for Rep. Adam Schiff. “These hearings might not produce any substantial legislation for the American people, but they sure will be entertaining.”

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

 

When the Real News Isn’t in the Headlines

See the source imageSunday of Christ the King

Jeremiah 23:1–6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11–20
Luke 23:33–43

Prayer of the Day: O God, our true life, to serve you is freedom, and to know you is unending joy. We worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory. Abide with us, reign in us, and make this world into a fit habitation for your divine majesty, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:15-16.

“When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” Luke 23:33.

In these days when our attention is fixated on the clash of political titans in the U.S. Congress over the impeachment of the planet’s most powerful ruler, we would do well to recall that the “first born of all creation…” through whom and for whom all “thrones,” “dominions” and “rulers” exist hangs on a cross along with two other condemned criminals.  While we are fixated on the fate of Donald Trump and his presidency, the very lives of thousands of refugee families fleeing from violence, starvation and oppression hang in the balance as they languish in refugee camps and detainment centers on both sides our southern border. Like the criminals hanging on the cross with Jesus, these are folks that  a good part of America hates and many of the rest would prefer to sweep under the rug and forget. So, if you are looking for prime time entertainment, just stay tuned to the major networks. But if you seek Jesus, you will have to shut off the television/laptop/ipad/smart phone and look much harder in another direction.

To that end, I offer the epistle of Rev. Stephen Bouman, a predecessor at the church I last served and now Executive Director, Domestic Mission at Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He is currently visiting our churches and mission partners on the U.S.-Mexican border:

“Yesterday we stared into the face of the nightmare at the border. With Pastor Lorenzo Ortiz of Good Samaritan Ministries in Laredo, we walked across the Rio Grande River into Mexico and Nueva Laredo. This is where asylum seekers are being sent for processing when they cross our border. It is a humanitarian quagmire. Pastor Ortiz arranged for a bus to take about one hundred to Chiapas on the way back home. The wait for a hearing had become too long, too dangerous, too debilitating. We were with them as they departed from a Mexican immigration facility. The pastor told us the cartels, and those who spy for them are everywhere. We heard so many stories of kidnappings, robberies and worse by the cartels. He and his family operate two houses for those awaiting court hearings. Each dilapidated house hosts over one hundred asylum seekers. We met many who were generous in telling their stories. Almost all were from the Northern Triangle of Central America. A woman and her young son and her sister were fleeing death threats from the gangs in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Their brother, who operated a food truck was killed because he could not afford the extorted “war tax.” They would be next. A woman with a baby was trying to get to New York because her daughter (accompanied by her husband) was having surgery on her legs. She cannot walk. “This child needs her mother now,” she wept. A woman and her small children fleeing violent abuse from her husband was told to get away because when he gets out of jail in several months he has vowed to kill his family. So many stories. So much heartbreak. We could see that they regarded Pastor Ortiz as an angel. Later we drove to Eagle Pass and were at San Lucas Lutheran Church when two Haitian families were released from ICE detention to the shelter of the church. This is what it means to be a “Sanctuary” church! Pastor Rosemary Ducett, our amazing interpreter, was able to turn from Spanish to French to get their story-an long journey from Chile to Colombia, through the jungles of Panama (and robbers), to the Mexican border. They were tired, their small children were restless and yet able to laugh and play with us. Today we will interview Emma Espino-Olvera and Pastor Julio Vasquez of San Lucas, then cross into Mexico, Piedras Negras, with the Border Hope ministry and meet more children of God seeking safety and hope.

“More later. Just this thought. We have now exported our “border problem” to Mexico. Right now the border is the Jericho Road and our country has “passed by on the other side” of the beaten up human beings. Whether our politics are “red” or “blue” can we see their faces? Can our church see their faces? The only question worth asking is far from “is she documented?” Who is our neighbor?”

Jesus tells us “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” John 12:26. Today I am thankful that there are faithful disciples hanging with Jesus on our border. This may not be headline news, but for those of us who call ourselves Christians, it should be. After all, thrones, dominions, rulers, powers, nations and, yes, presidents come and go. As the old hymn tells us, “Crowns and thrones shall perish; kingdoms wax and wane. /But the cross of Jesus ever shall remain.” Executive orders, acts of congress and the rise and fall of nations, our own included, are destined to vanish in the mists of time. But acts of mercy, kindness and compassion performed in obedience to the King whose reign outlasts time are eternal. At the end of the day, there is but one King deserving of our faith, trust and obedience. There is only one kingdom deserving of our allegiance. Among all the voices competing for our allegiance, there is but one voice that leads from death into life.

Here is a poem by Emily Dickenson reflecting on the nature of Jesus’ reign.

One Crown that no one seeks   

One crown that no one seeks
And yet the highest head
Its isolation coveted
Its stigma deified

While Pontius Pilate lives
In whatsoever hell
That coronation pierces him
He recollects it well.

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.

President Signs Executive Order Nixing Turkey Pardon

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

See the source imageThe White House announced today that President Donald Trump will be signing an executive order putting a hold on the annual Thanksgiving presidential turkey pardon. “This action is in direct response to numerous acts of aggression by turkeys in Toms River, New Jersey,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “The president feels that violent attacks of these birds on senior citizens and children cannot be tolerated.” Defense Secretary, Mike Pompeo agreed, telling reporters at a press conference this morning that “pardoning a turkey at this time would send exactly the wrong message.” Mr. Pompeo stopped short of threatening military action, however, saying that “we have to see how the action we have already taken will be received.”

Adviser to the President, Kellyanne Conway assured reporters later in the day that no military action against the turkeys is anticipated. “The president has always been reluctant to commit our troops to foreign engagements,” she said. When it was pointed out to her that New Jersey is a state of the United States and therefore not a foreign country, Ms. Conway replied, “New Jersey is a blue state that has never supported the president. New Jersey demonstrated its disloyalty to the President in the 2016 election. It’s as good as a foreign country to his administration and therefore undeserving of federal support.”

Though the annual turkey pardon will not be taking place this year, the president assured the nation by way of a tweet that there will be a pardon on Thanksgiving, albeit not a turkey. “THERE WILL BE A T-GIVING PARDON. Thinking maybe Paul Manafort or Roger Stone…lots of people in my administration will also need pardons soon…might need one myself.” he said.

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

Endurance-Faith Practices for the Long Game

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Prayer of the Day: O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy. Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Luke 21:19.

You are looking at Agios Sophia, an Orthodox church in the Greek city of Thessaloniki located roughly in the same locale as the ancient city of Thessalonica where, according to the Book of Acts, Saint Paul founded a congregation to which he wrote two letters. Since at least the Third Century C.E., there has been a Christian Church on the site of Agios Sophia. The present sanctuary was built in the Eight Century based on the design of its namesake in Istanbul, Turkey. Originally Orthodox, the church was converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral when Thessaloniki was conquered in 1205 during the course of the Fourth Crusade. It continued as such until it was returned to the Byzantine Empire in 1246, whereupon it became Orthodox once again. After conquest by the Ottoman Turks in 1430, Agios Sophia was converted into a Mosque. But in 1912 Thessaloniki was retaken by the Greeks and the building was converted back to an Orthodox sanctuary once again. In addition to the fortunes of war, the church has suffered damage from two fires, one in 1890 and the other in 1917. Notwithstanding all of that, the church remains very much alive and vibrant. You can find worshipers on any given day at Agios Sophia worshiping, praying and venerating its many beautiful icons. In spite of “wars and insurrections” and much worse, this church remains. By its endurance, it has retained its soul.

In our gospel lesson for this Sunday, Jesus’ disciples are seeking intel on the proximity of the final judgment and the advent of God’s reign. Jesus’ response must surely have disappointed them. No intel on timing, just a command to endure. Neither the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem nor any insurrection, war, famine, plague or natural disaster implies that the end is near. To the contrary, all of these things can be expected to occur throughout the foreseeable future. There is no clock that can measure God’s time or tell the disciples where they are on their long march toward “the end.” Not only so, but they can expect hostility from their community and even from intimate family members on account of their faith. All of this, however, is to be welcomed as affording the disciples opportunities to bear witness to their hope for the coming reign of God.

Agios Sophia is nothing if not an illustration of endurance, and one that we American Christians should take to heart. Our brief existence on this continent amounts to about 1% of Agios Sophia’s sojourn in Greece. Until recently, protestant Christianity has been almost as much an American institution as was Orthodoxy for the Byzantine Empire. But unlike the ancestors of Agios Sophia, our churches were not born into a hostile imperial environment, have not seen the collapse and conquest of our host country or the seizure of our sanctuaries. With the exception of African American believers, American Christians know nothing of persecution.[1] Though it is fashionable to speak of the American churches’ decline in membership, support and influence as a “crisis,” it hardly ranks with the crusader’s conquest and annexation of Thessaloniki or the invasion and seizure of Agios Sophia’s sanctuary by the Ottoman Empire.

So I have to wonder how we American Christians and our churches will fare in the millennia to follow. Can our congregations survive losing their sanctuaries? Are we the kind of communities that produce saints able to live a counter-cultural existence? Would we continue to be Christians in an environment where membership in a church posed a threat to our reputation rather than constituting a badge of moral character? Do we have the spiritual disciplines and faithful practices necessary to keep our hearts focused on discipleship when discipleship goes against the grain of patriotism, public virtue and the law?

I am not suggesting that any calamity such as those Jesus describes is immanent for American Christians, but that is beside the point. We are just two and a half centuries into our ecclesiastical lives. That is but a moment in the seventeen plus centuries of Agios Sophia. Given that reality, the critical need for endurance is not a matter of whether, but when. Because virtues like endurance are not developed on the fly, perhaps we should be thinking about the form endurance takes in this relatively tranquil age and build on it. Maybe endurance consists in remaining in your church even when the preaching doesn’t connect with you, even when the liturgy seems flat and uninspiring, even when people are not particularly friendly because-well, it’s not all about you, your wants and your needs. Perhaps endurance takes shape in committing to a devotional practice of prayer and Bible reading and sticking with it-even when the novelty has worn off, the practice seems rote and perfunctory and you discover when you are finished that you can’t remember what you just read. Endurance is going through the motions of worship, prayer, giving and service when your heart is no longer in it. Faith is a habit of the heart and, as we all know, developing good habits requires practice, persistence and discipline. Once formed, however, a habit is hard to break. That is the secret of endurance ensuring that we will “not…weary in doing what is right.” II Thessalonians 3:13.

Here is a poem by Alli Warren speaking of habits of the heart and endurance.

A Better Way to Zone

Habits accrue
in circular pattern
and living occasion
swollen among what
the dead have to teach us

So, ear, be an instrument for thought
Tide, bring some
little green thing to dust
behind my eyes

Touch the hotpoint
and drag the tongue
over the fat belly
of a flapping fish

Sticker book
of farm animals
Sticker book of ole timey cats
What is life and how shall it be governed?

With blind devotion
and endurance in the impossible
for guts in everything for roots
in plain sight

Share a lung
Accumulate none
Say hello to the crow

There are certain chord progressions
one should avoid

Source: I Love It Though (c. 2017 by Alli Warren, pub. by Nightboat Books). Alli Warren is an American poet born in Los Angeles. She currently lives in the Bay area near San Francisco. Warren is the author of the poetry collections I Love It Though, from which this poem is taken, as well as Don’t Go Home With Your Heart On and Here Come the Warm Jets. The latter book earned her the Poetry Center Book Award. You can read more about Alli Warren and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

[1] I do not take seriously the whiny complaints of with evangelical Christians like the Rev. Franklin Graham who pretend that they are suffering persecution because they can no longer discriminate against or refuse public services to gay and lesbian persons or, as in the recent case of a Mississippi wedding venue proprietor, deny services to mixed race couples. Discrimination is unamerican to say nothing of unchristian. Those who claim it as a “right” do not belong in a free society. On that subject, see my Open Letter to Rev. Franklin Graham from a “Small Church” Pastor.