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.

Why am I not a Roman Catholic?

REFORMATION SUNDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Homecoming

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

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

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

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

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

White House Announces Chicken to Replace Eagle Logo for American Military

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

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

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

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

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

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

Will Faith Die Out?

See the source imageNINETEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a poem reflecting on Jesus’ haunting question.

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

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

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

Source: Anonymous

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

Ignore the Little Girl at Your Peril

See the source imageEIGHTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Child

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

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

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

Late Night Television Reeling from News of Possible Impeachment

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

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

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

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

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

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

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith-because it’s the Only Way the Righteous Can Live

See the source imageSEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-9
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

Prayer of the Day: Benevolent, merciful God: When we are empty, fill us. When we are weak in faith, strengthen us. When we are cold in love, warm us, that with fervor we may love our neighbors and serve them for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

This week’s lessons are a hot mess of contradiction. On one hand, the psalmist’s confident assertion that those who “trust in the Lord and do good…will live in the land, and enjoy security.” Psalm 37:3. On the other, the cries of Habakkuk protesting the reign of  senseless violence, cruelty and injustice. In the psalmist’s world, righteousness is rewarded with safety, health, wealth and long life. The wicked “will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.” Psalm 37:2. But the experience of Habakkuk does not comport with this rosy picture. Habakkuk lived and preached during the period of  Babylonian domination over the Southern Kingdom of Judah. He witnessed the selfishness and corruption of Judah’s leaders that finally led to the small kingdom’s loss of its land and its temple. He saw first hand the brutality of the conquering Babylonian army as it systematically destroyed his nation. In response to this ocean of blood letting and cruelty, often visited upon the innocent and that, in any event, seems out of all proportion to any sin anyone might have committed, the prophet has this to say:

Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgement comes forth perverted. Habakkuk 1:3-4.

So, who are we to believe? Whose words ring true? Those of the prophet or those of the psalmist? Perhaps both of these biblical witnesses speak truthfully. Practicing honesty, integrity and compassion do lead to a better life-at least often enough that we encourage our children to work hard, tell the truth, play fair and be kind. In a society where justice is prized, righteousness is rewarded. But what happens when the institutions of government become instruments of oppression? What happens when commerce is driven by human greed rather than harnessed to meet human need? What happens when partisan lies become the coin of public discourse? What happens when white supremacy, patriarchy and nationalism are systemically imbedded in the foundations of government, education and the workplace? In the words of another psalmist, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Psalm 11:3.

It is hard to teach your children kindness and compassion when you are compelled to send them each day into a school plagued by bullying and violence. It is hard for employers to treat their employees justly when they must choose between terminating an otherwise productive employee or ceasing to provide health insurance for all employees. It is hard for judges to administer justice where law enforcement systematically singles out persons of color for prosecution. Righteousness is not a solo act. In a sense, no individual can be anymore righteous than the community of which s/he is a member. Habakkuk is speaking to a context in which “the foundations are destroyed.” So, the question is, how can the righteous live justly in such an unjust world?

The answer given to the prophet’s question is this: “the righteous live by their faith.” Habakkuk 2:4. That brings us to the gospel lesson where the disciples implore Jesus, “Increase our faith!” Luke 17:5. The lectionary has failed us here by omitting verses 1-4 of Chapter 17 in which Jesus describes the kind of community required for persons to live righteously:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent”, you must forgive.’”

This sounds very much like a twelve-step community in which each member takes on the responsibility of ensuring the sobriety of the other. Under no circumstances must any “stumbling block” be placed in the path of another that might lead to relapse. Moreover, because the possibility of relapse exists for each member, the health of the community requires that forgiveness and acceptance be the rule.

It should be obvious that life in such a community of recovering sinners requires faith. It requires faith in the redemptive presence of God’s Spirit that never gives up on anyone. It requires faith that each member of the community, however recalcitrant, annoying and seemingly disruptive, has been claimed by Christ and is present because s/he is precisely the one God needs to help build the mind of Christ within that community. It requires faith because the community might not recognize, appreciate or even desire the gifts you bring to it, much less reward you for your efforts. You might never see any positive results for the work you do or get the recognition you feel you deserve. But that shouldn’t matter. What matters is that God is at work and you are privileged to share in that work. That’s as much reward as is needed and can be expected.

The church exists to bear witness to a better way of being human, showing the world the kind of community required for people to live righteously. To be sure, the church is not a perfect community made up of better people. It is rather a gathering of people who know they have become intoxicated by the false values of a society whose foundations are cracked. They are gathered to help each other gain and maintain sobriety in a world drunk on selfishness, greed, violence and hateful ideologies. They are gathered to live under the gentle reign of God which, in a violent world, necessarily takes the shape of the cross. The cross is what righteousness looks like in an unrighteous world. The righteous live by faith because, where the foundations are destroyed, there is no other way to live.

It being Rosh-Hashanah, I thought it appropriate to cite this poem by Emma Lazarus who plumbs the depths of this ancient Jewish observance and the strong, stubborn, resilient faith it represents. It speaks, I believe, about the kind of faith for which Jesus calls in our gospel lesson.

The New Year

Rosh-Hashanah, 5643

Not while the snow-shroud round dead earth is rolled,

And naked branches point to frozen skies.—
When orchards burn their lamps of fiery gold,
The grape glows like a jewel, and the corn
A sea of beauty and abundance lies,
Then the new year is born.

Look where the mother of the months uplifts
In the green clearness of the unsunned West,
Her ivory horn of plenty, dropping gifts,
Cool, harvest-feeding dews, fine-winnowed light;
Tired labor with fruition, joy and rest
Profusely to requite.

Blow, Israel, the sacred cornet! Call
Back to thy courts whatever faint heart throb
With thine ancestral blood, thy need craves all.
The red, dark year is dead, the year just born
Leads on from anguish wrought by priest and mob,
To what undreamed-of morn?

For never yet, since on the holy height,
The Temple’s marble walls of white and green
Carved like the sea-waves, fell, and the world’s light
Went out in darkness,—never was the year
Greater with portent and with promise seen,
Than this eve now and here.

Even as the Prophet promised, so your tent
Hath been enlarged unto earth’s farthest rim.
To snow-capped Sierras from vast steppes ye went,
Through fire and blood and tempest-tossing wave,
For freedom to proclaim and worship Him,
Mighty to slay and save.

High above flood and fire ye held the scroll,
Out of the depths ye published still the Word.
No bodily pang had power to swerve your soul:
Ye, in a cynic age of crumbling faiths,
Lived to bear witness to the living Lord,
Or died a thousand deaths.

In two divided streams the exiles part,
One rolling homeward to its ancient source,
One rushing sunward with fresh will, new heart.
By each the truth is spread, the law unfurled,
Each separate soul contains the nation’s force,
And both embrace the world.

Kindle the silver candle’s seven rays,
Offer the first fruits of the clustered bowers,
The garnered spoil of bees. With prayer and praise
Rejoice that once more tried, once more we prove
How strength of supreme suffering still is ours
For Truth and Law and Love.

Source: Emma Lazarus: Selected Poems and Other Writings, (c. 2002 by Broadview Press) Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) is most famous for the words of her poem, The New Colossus inscribed on the base of the Statute of Liberty.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

She was one of the first successful and publicly recognized Jewish American authors. Lazarus was born in New York City to a wealthy family. She began writing and translating poetry as a teenager and was publishing translations of German poems by the 1860s. Lazarus was moved by the fierce persecution of her people in Russia, a frequent topic of her writings, as well as their struggles to assimilate into American culture. You can sample more of Emma Lazarus’ poetry and read more about her at the Poetry Foundation website.

Dune Grass and the Great Chasm

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Psalm 146
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

Prayer of the Day: O God, rich in mercy, you look with compassion on this troubled world. Feed us with your grace, and grant us the treasure that comes only from you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” I Timothy 6:8.

The plant in the above picture is dune grass. This photo was taken yesterday afternoon at LeCount Hollow beach on Cape Cod. Dune grass is sometimes improperly referred to as “poverty grass.” The misnomer is understandable. Like poverty grass, dune grass grows and thrives in nutrient poor soil where no other land plant can survive. It is commonly found, as here, on bare sand just inches above the tideline. I think it provides a helpful metaphor and lens through which to view this Sunday’s lessons, all of which focus on poverty and its antithesis, wealth. I will come back to that shortly. But first, a few observations about the gospel lesson.

This parable of Jesus is commonly referred to as “Lazarus and Dives.” The title contains yet another misnomer. “Dives” is not a proper name but only the Latin word used in the Vulgate translation of the New Testament for “rich.” In any event, I think a more apt title might be “The Great Chasm,” referring, of course, to the chasm separating Lazarus resting in the bosom of Father Abraham from the rich man burning in the garbage dump of Hades. It is important to recognize that this “great chasm” did not originate in the afterlife nor was it of God’s making. The rich man constructed this great chasm on his own when he first settled into his gated community, a community where he could live a sheltered life, untroubled by the sight of beggars. The chasm grew each time he was driven through the central city to his office in a black limo behind tinted windows with the silk drapes drawn against the wreckage of ruined neighborhoods. It grew each time he met the plaintive gaze of Lazarus lying at his gate, quickened his pace and walked through his door without making eye contact. Now, in the afterlife, that chasm is still there-only the rich man and Lazarus are on opposite sides. The great reversal foretold in Mary’s Magnificat has come to pass:

“[God] has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1:51-53.

You might think the rich man would have gotten the point, but he remains clueless. Even as he sits burning in the in the city garbage dump, he still thinks he is important. He still imagines that he is in a position to fraternize with Father Abraham. He still thinks Lazarus is his “boy” who can be ordered to “fetch” him a drink. Even after Abraham explains the situation to him, the rich man continues pressing for special favors, imploring the patriarch to send Lazarus to his errant brothers with a warning of the fate awaiting them also. This last request, illustrating once again the man’s arrogance and obtuseness, is unnecessary. “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them,” says Abraham. “No, father Abraham,” the fool protests, “but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”

Of course, we can’t miss the final irony in the rich man’s last plea. We know that someone has risen from the dead. Tragically, though, Abraham’s words have proven themselves. Two millennia later the chasm we have constructed between rich and poor remains and, if anything, it has gotten wider and more difficult to traverse. Nearly one half of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day. One billion children worldwide are living in poverty. According to UNICEF, twenty-two thousand children die each day due to poverty. See Global Issues website. These are, of course, only numbers. We don’t see the names and the faces, nor do we hear the stories behind such soulless statistics. They are safely buried under neatly drawn graphs and pie charts, far away on the other side of the chasm.

It is all too tempting to use this text as a platform from which to launch an attack on the proverbial 1%, that is, the very few who control the majority of the world’s wealth. These, after all, are the “rich.” That term surely does not include those of us who slog to work five days a week or more for the better part of our lives just to pay for the roof over our heads, educate our children and scrape together enough savings to see us through the last years of our lives. But in our second lesson, the Apostle Paul expresses a different view of what constitutes excessive wealth. “If we have food and clothing,” he says, “we will be content with these.” I Timothy 6:8. Needless to say that I, along with most of the people to whom I preach, live far above Paul’s baseline. And though the only physical commodity for which Jesus commands us to pray is enough bread for the day, most of us have been raised to pursue the nirvana of “financial security.” How do we defend living well above Paul’s baseline when so many are compelled to live far below it? The sobering truth confronting us in Jesus’ parable, in the words of the prophet Amos and the teaching of the Apostle is that wealth has a powerful death grip on our souls. It is hardening our hearts, making us blind to our poor neighbors and deaf to their cries.

Before we can hope to call the world to repentance and to compassion for what it considers “the least” among us, we need to face up to the truth about our own sordid relationship to wealth. We need to acknowledge that, at the deepest level, we are hoarders. Clinically speaking, hoarders are individuals who experience persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces. On a spiritual plane, our obsession with accumulating wealth disrupts our relationship to our planet and to our neighbors. It is also the biggest obstacle to discipleship that we Christians in America encounter. Hoarding is a peculiarly human behavior. Animals typically do not overeat, accumulate more than they need or hunt other species to extinction. If they have any concept at all of tomorrow, it doesn’t figure into their behavior today.  Animals seem to have a primal instinct leading them to be content when there is food at hand, water nearby and no predators on the horizon. That ought to be enough, and it is enough for the ravens and for the grass of the fields. Luke 12:24-28. Along with godliness, says Paul, such “contentment” is “great gain.” I Timothy 6:6.

That brings me back to the dune grass. This hardy plant thrives where no plant should be able to live. It seems almost to delight in the poverty of its harsh environment, finding just enough of what it needs. Dune grass faces with a gleeful defiance the brutal wind from off the ocean and the briny moisture inflicted upon it. There are people like that too, though few in number. These unique individuals find similar contentment in “baseline” living. Saint Paul was one of them. “I have learned to be content with whatever I have,” says Paul. “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.” Philippians 4:11-12. Saint Francis of Assisi was another such person. He also rejoiced in living day-to-day, receiving charity shamelessly and thankfully when in want, but giving cheerfully and generously when blessed with abundance. So, too, there continue to be Anabaptist communities like the Amish, monastic fellowships and other intentional Christian groups that find contentment in living simply and gently on the land, rejecting the American creed of contentment through accumulation and consumption. These witnesses testify to the better life God is able to give us-if only we can empty our hands to receive it.

If there is anyone with whom we ought to identify in Jesus’ parable, it is the brothers of the rich man. Like them, we are still alive. It is not too late for us to escape the heart hardening, soul crushing pursuit of success measured in terms of acquisition and financial security bought at the cost of impoverishing our neighbor. It is not too late for us to look past the veneer of our sheltered existence and see the people our consumptive lifestyle is destroying. It is not too late for us to begin dismantling the chasm our greed has built. Like the brothers, we have the words of Moses and the prophets calling us away from a life of greed and indifference into a life of compassion and generosity. More than that, we have the witness of the one who threw himself into the depths of that dreadful chasm and whom God raised from death. The chasm of callus indifference need not continue to define our relationships to one another, deadening souls on one side and crushing bodies on the other. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Here is a poem by John Reibetanz piercing the chasm of wealth and privilege to give us a glimpse of the human cost of our consumptive way of life.

Daily Bread

We have cried often when we have given them the little victualling we
had to give them; we had to shake them, and they have fallen to sleep
with the victuals in their mouths many a time.
(parent of children working at a textile mill, to an
1832 Parliamentary inquiry into child employment)

1.

They cry for children too tired to cry for themselves,
daughters twelve, eleven, eight—eyes
shutting down as a grate’s banked coals shut down
at midnight, in the rising damp called ‘home.’
Too tired to eat after eighteen hours feeding
looms whose steel teeth grind insatiably,
the girls will be offered up again at dawn.

Yet they are the lucky ones, to work where skylights
hold swatches of the unaffordable blue.
Imagine these girls’ mine-trapped cousins, hauling
black rocks on sledges up tunnels of black air:
half-undressed, belted, harnessed, saturated
with the oil-blackened water they crawl through
pumping ‘the lifeblood of British industry.’

Flogged for talking, Margaret Comeley, aged
nine, can sometimes close her mouth around
a piece of muffin—if she manages
to keep it from the rats, ‘so ravenous
they eat the corks out of our oil-flasks.’
Sarah Gooder fills her mouth with song
‘when I’ve light, but not in the dark; I dare not then.’

2.

Here is a working girl so filled with light
she is pure song: her sun-bright bodice shines
in counterpoint with her blue overskirt,
and, from her forehead’s crescent of white linen,
tapering light blazes a white path
down arms and wrists to folds of spread blue cloth,
like moonlight piloting the tide’s refrains.

A Dutch milkmaid, Tanneke Everpoel,
lucky enough to live in the Delft house
where Vermeer’s* eye and brush could catch the spill
of morning light as her brief peacefulness
brimmed over, serves here as a celebrant—
bread heaped up on the altar-like table,
wine transubstantiated into milk

whose brilliance seems the source of the room’s light
she pours forever from the earthenware’s
black core. His pose; yet—all hers—underneath it
(and signalled in her fixed eyes’ unconcern
for the beholder) such complete immersion
in what she does, that she is all she does
and it is she, this offering-up of day.

And he? When he was forty, the Sun King
invaded Holland. No one wanted art.
In debt to his baker for three years’ worth of bread,
Vermeer, according to his widow, falling
‘into a frenzy,’ passed ‘from being healthy’
in ‘a day or a day and a half … to being dead,’
‘the very great burden of his children … so taken to heart.’

3.

Knowing the earth is closer to the sun
in winter won’t revive the street person
sleeping towards cold death in a bus shelter.
Bread in a painting won’t cure stomach ache.
So Margaret dragged her great burden of coal
while Sarah sat terrified in the dark,
and neither knew Vermeer’s poised working girl,

broke bread with her, shared her breaking light.
The painting stood by, helpless to save them
or him, and looking at it now cannot
help anyone. Yet, it can cry for them,
as parents take their children’s grief to heart:
the beads of salt, shimmering on the bread
like diamonds, can be tears the two girls shed

down where no light sang their preciousness.
The cradled pitcher’s brim can be their hearth,
since it (and not the sky’s cold mine of stars)
pours out what cannot shelter us, but feeds
a hunger no daily bread can fill: for light—
light that, like coal, comes from our earth; hunger
that, unlike grief, is inexhaustible.

* Johannes Vermeer  (1632 – 1675) was a painter of the Dutch Baroque period. He specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle class life.  The reference here is to one of his paintings entitled “The Milkmaid.”

Source: Mining for Sun (c. 2000 by John Reibetanz , pub. by Brick Books). John Reibetanz (b. 1944) was born in New York City and grew up in the eastern United States and Canada. He studied at Brooklyn College and Princeton University. He has published essays on Elizabethan drama and modern and contemporary poetry. He also authored a book on King Lear and translations of modern German poetry. Reibetanz has also written several of his own poems that have been published in the above cited work and in numerous other magazines and periodicals. Reibetanz currently lives in Toronto and is a Fellow at Victoria College. You can find out more about John Reibetanz and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

 

I’ts Not the Economy, Stupid!

See the source imageFIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

Prayer of the Day: God among us, we gather in the name of your Son to learn love for one another. Keep our feet from evil paths. Turn our minds to your wisdom and our hearts to the grace revealed in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“You cannot serve God and wealth.” Luke 16:13.

If you read the very next verse after the end of this Sunday’s gospel reading, you will discover that Jesus’ opponents, who were listening in on a parable directed to his disciples, “were lovers of money…and they ridiculed him.” Luke 16:14. Among those who ridicule Jesus might be former New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie  who took part in a “round table discussion” on ABC’s Good Morning America this Sunday. He made the point, and not for the first time, that however much the American people might dislike Donald Trump, they love the low unemployment rate and they love what the stock market is doing for their retirement accounts. That, says Christie, is what they will take into the voting booth, not, what for them, are distant and abstract issues like immigration or foreign policy. To put it in the words of a slogan dating back to the days of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

This is all chillingly reminiscent of the attitude expressed by millions of Germans in the 1930s who, however much they might have disliked the vulgar and pretentious little corporal with the audacity to call himself “the Fuhrer,” nevertheless liked the creation of millions of new jobs, the rebuilding of decaying national infrastructure and the rebirth of patriotism under his reign. They, too, were less concerned about abstract issues like the “Jewish Question” and the nation’s drift toward militarism. It seems that, in the Governor’s view, the American people are as morally tone deaf as the crowds that cheered for the Nazis. In the end, says Christie, they will vote their pocket books. After all, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Jesus warns us that our fixation on the economy and reliance on the wealth it produces for us is misplaced. The economy is a notorious traitor. When corporate decides that the sporting goods store you work for could more profitably be closed, liquidated and the proceeds invested in a more promising sector of our booming economy, you learn that a good economy is not necessarily your friend. A healthy economy might promise you a comfortable retirement in your golden years. But if your next physical reveals a lump on your body that turns out to be malignant, there may be no golden years to enjoy. Money can’t do anything about that. Money can buy you a new swimming pool for your dream house, but it provides little consolation the day you find your toddler floating face down in the middle of it. For those who are willing to learn from history, the decades of misery suffered in Germany and throughout Europe during and after the Second World War should demonstrate how foolhardy it is to “vote your pocket book.” A self centered and myopic equation of security with wealth leads to destruction every time. It’s not the economy, stupid.

Jesus’ parable illustrates the point. This story is often given the title “The Dishonest Manager,” but I am not convinced that the manager was actually dishonest or even negligent. We are told only that “charges were brought to [his master] that this man was wasting his goods.” Luke 16:1. Those of us who have spent time in the corporate world know that when mistakes are made that hurt the bottom line, heads must roll. They are not necessarily the heads of those responsible. Lower sales figures might not be anyone’s fault, but there is no better way for a middle manager to show corporate that s/he is in charge and taking matters in hand than by fixing blame and firing people. That shows the people on top that you are holding your subordinates responsible and sends a message to your subordinates that you expect improved results. In any case, whether the manager in Jesus’ parable was dishonest, incompetent or merely a victim of someone else’s scheme to deflect blame, he has clearly learned one of life’s cruelest lessons: Corporate doesn’t care, not about you, your ailing spouse or your child with a serious medical condition. The bottom line is the only line that matters. Everybody else is expendable.

So, our hero, who just moments ago imagined himself firmly established among the proverbial 1%, suddenly finds himself among the other 99% without the skill sets needed to survive there. He responds by reducing the debts of his master’s creditors in the few hours he still has left in the office, hoping to ingratiate himself to them. One can read this cynically as a disgruntled employee’s final attempt to screw his boss on the way out the door. If that were the case, however, you would hardly expect the master to congratulate him on the cleverness of his fraudulent scheme. Can you imagine yourself admiring the skill of the thief who broke into your car? More likely, I think, the manager was writing off only his own commission on his master’s debts. That would have won him a debt of gratitude from the master’s creditors without decreasing the master’s accounts receivable.

Whatever conclusions you might draw about the manager’s actions and motives, the point here is that he has learned an important truth about the security wealth and privilege promise, namely, that such security is illusory. Genuine security comes not from wealth, but from one’s ties to a caring community. In the end, my own security is no better than my trust and confidence in my neighbor. My wellbeing is finally dependent on the wellbeing of my neighbor. The best way to achieve security is to work for the freedom, security and wellbeing of your neighbors. Losing sight of that fact and focusing solely on your own financial well being while your neighbors are being detained, separated from their families and deported is, well, stupid.

Here is one of my favorite poems speaking to our connectedness and our aching need for “Love beyond marital, filial, national, love that casts a widening pool of light…” It was composed by Elizabeth Alexander for Barack Obama’s Inauguration. How hard it is to believe that this day once dawned in the nation we have become.

Praise for the Day

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Source: Praise Song for the Day, (c. 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander, pub. by Graywolf Press). Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem in 1962. She grew up on Washington, D.C., however, where her father, Clifford Alexander, served as United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman. She earned her Ph.D. at University of Pennsylvania. Alexander is chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a professor of poetry at Yale University. She composed and read the above poem at President Barak Obama’s inauguration in 2009. You can find out more about Elizabeth Alexander and read more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Senator Mitch McConnell Receives Russia’s Highest Honor

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

See the source imageThis week Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell was awarded a Hero of the Russian Federation medal, the highest honor bestowed on Russian citizens. Though the medal is usually awarded to Russians, a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin explained that “We have always regarded Mr. McConnell as one of us.” Mr. Putin himself presented the medal at a special ceremony in Moscow. “We could not have won the 2016 election without your loyal support,” Mr. Putin told a cheering Duma. “You have more than earned the honorary title, ‘Moscow Mitch.’” The Russian leader pointed out that Mr. McConnell’s resistance to the Obama administration’s request to launch bipartisan interference with his country’s generous assistance for America’s 2016 presidential election was instrumental in “giving us the best United States president Russia ever had.”

Upon his return to the U.S., Mr. McConnell was swarmed with reporters questioning the propriety of his acceptance of the medal. Mr. McConnell lashed out at what he termed “the McCarthyism of the left wing media.” Brushing off an inquisitive press and criticism from his colleagues in the Senate, the Senator replied, “This is what we’re up against with the hard left today in America. These people are lying, lying when they dismiss the work that I’ve done to secure our democracy for real Americans against that congressional “squad” of radical socialists who are only fake Americans. They’re lying when they insist I have personally blocked actions to protect American freedom. Those idiots don’t even know what freedom is! I know first hand what it is like to lose your freedoms. My state of Kentucky has been the victim of tyranny under liberals for decades. Since the 1960s, activist liberal judges have been imposing their perverse ideas of racial equality on our people, robbing real Americans of their drinking fountains, their lunch counters and parks. I’ll do whatever it takes to protect America from more injustice like that and support the president in making it great again, like it was before all this nonsense started. We joined with the Russians against the Nazis in World War II and we will join with them again against the Democrats.”

Many congressional leaders, including a few Republicans, pointed out that Mr. McConnell had not received authorization from the president or his national security staff before attending the presentation ceremony in Moscow. “Nonsense,” replied a spokesperson for Mr. McConnell. “Mitch would never have taken this trip without his president’s approval. Mr. Putin has been supportive of the Senator’s visit from the get go.”

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

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